2013: The Year in Review

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

From the government shutdown in Washington to the new pope in Rome to the death of an iconic leader in South Africa, 2013 was a notable year indeed. Natural disasters like Typhoon Haiyan made the headlines, as well as man-made tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombings. In the midst of it all, we kept tabs on the media’s coverage of substance abuse, treatment, and recovery. Here’s a look back at the top 10 addiction stories of the year:

2013 New Year1. Healthcare reform moves forward. Despite a 16-day government stalemate aimed at defunding the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare), open enrollment for the new Health Insurance Marketplace began in October. Providing access to medical coverage for millions of previously uninsured Americans, the law, coupled with mental health parity, also means that insurers who cover addiction treatment must now do so at the same rate they offer for other conditions. Healthcare reform has tremendous potential to close the gap between the more than 23 million Americans who need substance abuse treatment and the few who receive it.

2. Two states create rules for legal pot. With recreational marijuana use legal in Washington and Colorado, we waited with bated breath to see if Big Marijuana would become the next Big Tobacco. So far, the regulation brought on by legalization has proven a disappointment for many would-be “marijuana tourists.” As for whether 2014 will see more widespread use, only time will tell. The first retail marijuana licenses go into effect on New Year’s Day.

3. The gun violence and mental health care debate reaches a fevered pitch. The tragic shootings at Newtown and elsewhere have emphasized the need for increased gun control—and, more importantly, greater access to treatment services for those struggling with mental health problems. It’s become clear that we need to address not only the accessibility of weapons, but also the untreated, underlying mental conditions that drive many individuals to violence.

4. The FDA tightens regulations on hydrocodone…and approves a stronger pill. For years, the FDA pressed for stricter prescribing rules for hydrocodone, the main ingredient in the highly abused painkiller Vicodin. With skyrocketing rates of opioid abuse and overdose, hydrocodone was finally re-classified as a Schedule II drug in October, a move that will help rein in prescriptions and curb addiction. Unfortunately, this was a case of two steps forward, one step back: The following week, the FDA approved Zohydro, a new, easily chewable opioid that packs a whopping dose of hydrocodone. Maybe 2014 will be the year the FDA finally puts public health ahead of big pharma interests. Wishful thinking?

5. Marijuana arrests linked to racial discrimination. Federal data showed that although black Americans are no more likely than whites to use marijuana, they are four times as likely to be arrested on marijuana possession charges. This led to an increased public push for drug law reform and alternatives to incarceration.

6. Glee star Cory Monteith dies of a heroin overdose. The talented young actor passed away tragically in July, leading many to call him “the new, fresh face of heroin.” In reality, however, the “face” of opiate addiction has been shifting for several years, due largely to the widespread abuse of prescription drugs. While commentators were quick to dismiss Monteith’s death as a sad, but inevitable outcome of fame, we think differently. And we were sorely disappointed when the Emmys, as well as Glee’s producers, missed a critical opportunity to spread the message that recovery is, in fact, possible.

7. Lance Armstrong admits to doping. In January, with mounting evidence against him, the famed cyclist confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs for all seven of his Tour de France victories. Once a symbol of triumph over adversity, Armstrong became a cautionary tale for our society’s addiction to winning at all costs.

8. Molly becomes the new “It” drug.   From Madonna to Miley Cyrus, everyone seems to be buzzing about the designer drug Molly—including the New York Times. Experts worry that all this publicity has glamorized Molly, an increasingly popular party drug. But contrary to what many teens and young adults believe, this synthetic form of MDMA is anything but safe. In August, two young concertgoers died at New York’s annual music festival Electric Zoo, a wake-up call to some that “pure” doesn’t equal harmless.

9. Dr. Drew calls it quits with Celebrity Rehab. After being held responsible for the deaths of Celebrity Rehab cast members who received treatment on his show, Dr. Drew announced that he was ending the popular reality series. While it could be said that the spotlight may have hindered Drew’s clients’ recovery, Drew made a valid point in asserting the chronic condition of addiction: “These are really sick people,” he said. “They have a life-threatening disease.”

10. Addiction vaccines provoke guarded optimism. Studies on vaccines that could potentially “numb” addiction have shown promise this year and could possibly allow us to lessen the length and intensity of treatment in certain cases. Still, since recovery is never one-size-fits-all, experts have indicated the unlikelihood of a cure-all “magic bullet” vaccine.



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