Freaky Friday: A Points Interview with Mark Christensen

Editor’s Note:  Those who follow the Points Interview series know that Joe Spillane has managed this aspect of the blog since our founding.  While in today’s iteration we mourn Joe’s departure, we are also delighted to announce that Contributing Editor Ron Roizen has agreed to take over as our official interview steward.  A member of the merry research staff at the Alcohol Research Group at “Berzerkeley” in the early 1970s, it’s fitting that his first Points Interview is a “Freaky Friday” confab with Mark Christensen, another denizen of the Wild West.  In addition to publishing several novels, Christensen has written for Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Oregon Magazine.  Here he graces Points with his replies to our series of probing interrogatives on Acid Christ: Ken Kesey, LSD, and the Politics of Ecstasy (Schaffner Press, 2010).

How did you come to write Acid Christ?  And what’s its focus?

I was contacted by a former editor working for my eventual publisher, Tim Schaffner.  Tim had an idea for a new kind of nonfiction book,  a “shepherd and his sheep” biography in which the writer would tell the story of  a major modern “culture changer” and the change the “shepherd” brought from the writer’s own  perspective. As one of the sheep.  That would be me.  A former upper middle-class “suburban-urchin,” I’d written about counterculture icons like David Crosby, Richard Pryor and Paul Krassner for Rolling Stone and High Times and, so to speak, the paradise that was “pre-AIDS ‘Freak Freely’ America.” So I guess I was a good get.

As for the shepherd, larger than life Ken Kesey was an easy choice.  By age 28 he had two critically acclaimed bestselling novels, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion, a feat never bested by Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Saul Bellow or John Updike.

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The Anti-Methadone Movement: Just Say “Yes” to Heroin

Editor’s Note: Today closes out our series on methadone by guest Grey Ryder, the pen name of a methadone activist and patient who blogs at  Following on his overview of the drug’s history and discussion of its benefits, this piece looks at recent attempts to make access to methadone maintenance more difficult and costly in the name of “morality.”

Methadone’s success in reducing the harmful effects and behaviors associated with heroin addiction have led to its status as the “gold standard” in opiate addiction treatment.  Despite the phenomenal success of methadone, and its proven track record over the past fifty years, it has made its share of enemies.  Methadone’s foes, once a small group of people primarily concerned with keeping clinics out of their neighborhoods, have coalesced in to a major movement.  They have allied with legislators to enact laws that are posing a very real threat to addiction treatment in this country.

Jesus’ Son

“Disgusting and immoral” was how Senator John McCain described methadone in 1998.  He was seeking support for his “Addiction Free Treatment Act” which would, among other things, cut off Medicaid payments for methadone after six months of treatment.  His wife, Cindy, is an addict herself: she stole the painkillers she was addicted to from her own medical organization.  McCain’s bill (which never became law) was followed by then New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s own crusade against methadone.  Giuliani vowed to shut down New York’s methadone clinics, again describing the treatment as “immoral,” before finally reversing himself in the face of overwhelming criticism.

Methadone opponents across the country are ready to clamp down on treatment.  Many methadone patients – perhaps the majority – are poor and on Medicaid.  States have begun to target this population by cutting off tax dollars for their treatment.

It is true that methadone deaths have risen exponentially over the past several years, due to a massive increase in pain relief prescriptions.

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Teaching Points– Christine Grella Comments on “Addiction Research”

Chris Grella Brings the Nuance

Editor’s Note: Yesterday, psychologist Chris Grella presented a syllabus that lays out the institutional history (or histories) into which new researchers will intervene as they pursue their work– whether as bench scientists or as service providers.  Today, the rationale behind the class, and the nuances it hopes to add to work that will take place in a rapidly changing policy and funding environment.

This course is the introductory seminar for pre- and postdoctoral trainees in our  training program, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), at the UCLA Integrated Substance Abuse Programs (ISAP).  The ISAP training program is focused on health services research to improve the quality of drug abuse treatment services, consistent with NIDA’s Services Research Branch. Our goal is to equip researchers with the skills needed to undertake research in the area of addiction health services, broadly defined to include: (1) organization and delivery of drug treatment services, including integration with mental health, primary care, and other health and social services; (2) workforce issues, organizational development, and implementation research; (3) economics and financing of drug treatment services; (4) criminal justice systems and interventions for offenders; (5) longitudinal drug use, treatment use, and recovery outcomes; and (6) treatment/services utilization among diverse groups, including women, racial/ethnic groups, impoverished/homeless individuals, youth and older adults, and individuals with or affected by HIV/AIDS.

We believe that our training program meets a critical need in addiction health services research, especially within the context of changes anticipated with the full implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), otherwise known as “health care reform.”

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Teaching Points– Addiction Research: History, Policy, and Practice

Editor’s Note: The Teaching Points series is a celebration of pedagogy on drugs.  In our second installment for the back-to-school season, we look at a rare specimen– a med-psy class that emphasizes history and its relevance for clinicians, researchers, and treatment providers.  Guest blogger Christine Grella is Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the Integrated Substance Abuse Programs (ISAP), Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, University of California, Los Angeles, and Associate Director of ISAP.  Her research focuses on the relationship of service delivery to addiction treatment outcomes, and she brings that “meta” perspective to graduate students and postdocs when she teaches “Addiction Research: History, Policy, and Practice.”

Addiction Research: History, Policy, and Practice
This course will take a big-picture view of research on substance abuse and its relationship to social interventions and policies that attempt to address problems related to substance use.

Teaching the Big Picture

The goal is for you to understand the history and evolution of the field of substance abuse research, so that you can situate your own research interests within this context, as well as understand the influences that continue to shape research priorities (and associated funding streams), social policies regarding substance abuse, and the organization and delivery of drug treatment within the context of the broader health care system. Moreover, because prior research on drug users, especially those who were incarcerated, was interwoven with the development of current policies regarding research with human subjects, we will examine these issues.  We will address questions such as:

  • What is the origin and evolution of research on drug use and addiction in the United States?
  • What is the relationship of the federal government to addiction research and how has this relationship changed over time?
  • What is the relationship of basic research on the effects of psychoactive substances, pharmacology and behavioral pharmacology, treatment-outcome and patient-oriented research, market-oriented research on drug development, and emerging new fields of addiction research (e.g., neurobiology, behavioral economics, translational research)?
  • In what ways does (or does not) research on drug abuse and its treatment inform social policies aimed at eradicating problems that stem from drug misuse?
  • What are implications of health care reform for the organization, financing, and delivery of drug treatment?
  • How do we determine the effectiveness of substance abuse treatment and what are current efforts to improve the quality and delivery of treatment services?

N.C. Campbell.  (2007). Discovering Addiction:  The Science and Politics of Substance Abuse Research.  Ann Arbor:  University of Michigan Press.

Report of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Health Services Research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2004). Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Institute of Medicine. Committee on Crossing the Quality Chasm. (2005). Improving the Quality of Health Care for Mental and Substance-Use Conditions: Quality Chasm Series. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.

NIDA 35th anniversary papers in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 107(1), 80-118.

National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.  (2012).  Addiction Medicine: Closing the Gap between Science and Practice.  New York:  CASAColumbia.

Course Schedule
Week 1: Introduction to addiction research and social policy in the U.S.:  History, policy, and practice
The field of addiction research has been described as having amnesia with regard to its history.  What can we learn from the history of addiction research about our current research priorities and practices?  What are the social policy precursors of our current efforts to regulate alcohol and drug use?  This class will present a “Brief History of Alcohol & Drug Use and Social Policy in the U.S.”

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Monitoring Drug Use through Sewage: A Helpful Supplement?

 Editor’s Note: Today we welcome guest blogger Toine Pieters, senior lecturer and researcher at the VU-Medical Center in Amsterdam (since 1998) and professor of the History of Pharmacy at the universities of Groningen and Utrecht (since 2008). Working at the intersection of psycho-pharmacology, addiction studies, genetics and eugenics, he is the author of Interferon: The Science and Selling of a Miracle Drug (London, 2005) as well as a host of diverse papers. In addition to teaching and writing, he also is the project manager of WAHSP and BIland: Web applications for historical sentiment mining in public media.  Pieters will be guest blogging at Points intermittently through the fall– we hope with a whole slate of provocative topics like today’s.

Archaeologists love to dig into trash as a source of information for reconstructing the past. Biochemical researchers have followed suit with another kind of waste: sewage.

Sewage Epidemiology

Over the past decade a new promising technique based on the analysis of urinary drug biomarkers in sewage has been developed to estimate drug use by specific populations. This approach has been referred to as ‘sewage epidemiology’. Throughout last year, researchers from 19 different European countries studied illicit drug use by chemically sifting through the sewers. What does the study tell us about monitoring drug use?

The claim is that screening for drugs that pass through the body and then get flushed down the toilet is a faster and more reliable way to assess a community’s drug use than the time consuming data gathering tools currently available: population surveys and indirect estimates of drug production and seizure. The major assumption is that a sample of waste water is representative of a pooled urine sample of the entire population in the study area.

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Addiction in African Literature

“Where is my African counterpart?” asks MaryKarr.

Where are the African tales of personal struggles with alcoholism and drug addiction?  I’ve been studying the history of alcohol use in Africa for more than twenty-five years and more recently I’ve also been looking at drug use.  Yet I can’t recall a single such story in my unsystematic sampling of African creative writing.  Here in the United States, hardly a week goes by, it seems, without publication of a memoir or fictional account (or public celebrity testimony) of the individual torments and collateral damage associated with alcohol and drug abuse and the redemption (and royalties) found in sobriety.  Why don’t we have an African Mary Karr? Why aren’t African writers cashing in?

Are Africans simply more abstemious?  This is hardly the case. Scholars have amply documented African drinking practices.  The history of drug use is much less studied, but in the recent past at least illicit drug use has become ubiquitous in many African societies.  And the fact is that African fiction and autobiography are awash in alcohol—and increasingly provide rich accounts of local drug cultures as well.  But the addiction story is mostly missing.  Why is that?

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Better Living Through Methadone

Editor’s Note: Today brings the second in our guest series by Grey Ryder of  His first piece gave a brief overview of methadone’s history, with an eye to its bad reputation among the public at large. Today: a look at the drug’s beneficent clinical and social effects.

Ask Your Pharmacist

The tools for treating opiate addiction are sparse.  The front line treatments are rehab and twelve step groups.  Most of the pharmacological treatments are still in their experimental stages, and there don’t appear to be any silver bullets on the horizon.  However, there is one treatment that offers real hope.  Over the past fifty years, researchers studying methadone have determined that it is one of the most effective treatments for drug addiction ever created.    While it is a far cry from a cure-all – some patients don’t respond to it at all, and some continue using drugs during treatment– it is a godsend for many addicts.

Defining success is of critical importance when assessing any treatment’s effectiveness.  The simplistic view looks at whether a treatment stops an addict from using their drug of choice.  This absolutist approach is problematic for a number of reasons.

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