Blaming Dr. Drew

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

Dr. Drew PinskyWhen Dr. Drew Pinsky announced he was ending Celebrity Rehab, he complained about being blamed for the deaths of cast members after they got addiction treatment in conjunction with appearing on his show. Mindy McCready, a country singer who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in February, was the latest. “These are really sick people, and that’s why they die,” Pinksy said. “I’m tired of taking all the heat…They have a life-threatening disease, and I take the blame?”

I agree with critics that Dr. Drew’s 11% mortality rate—42 cast members and five deaths—is an incredibly high and troubling mortality rate for a treatment provider. Celebrity Rehab is not a typical treatment experience, a factor to consider when evaluating its treatment. As treatment providers, we try to minimize distractions during treatment but they’re always there, whether it’s a divorce or a brand-new relationship, a failing business or a prospering business. It’s plausible that being on a reality TV show was so distracting it prevented someone from fully focusing on treatment. The public nature of Celebrity Rehab treatment may also play a part. Maybe when Dr. Drew’s patients ran into trouble, they didn’t want to admit that they needed help since their recovery was so public.

But if Dr. Drew is doing his part by giving his patients a long-term plan to manage their addiction, and that plan is consistent with their needs and abilities, then it may be unfair to blame him if his patients don’t end up following that plan.

To paint with a very broad brush, there are two main goals of treatment: a) to stop the bleeding and b) to help people gain the motivation, hope and skills to manage their condition on a daily basis. At Phoenix Houses of Florida, we make sure that every treatment experience includes what we call a “continuing care plan,” a prescription for a person to manage his or her condition upon discharge from the treatment center. Relapse prevention starts at Day One, when treatment staff thoroughly assess a client’s needs, abilities and preferences. From assessment to admission to treatment planning to therapy—all of it culminates in a continuing care plan.

Now if a treatment provider sends someone off with the message, “Thank you for your stay! Thank the Lord every day, don’t do any more drugs or alcohol, we now pronounce you well,” that’s not a continuing care plan. Treatment isn’t a cure but instead a guide to managing a chronic condition, just as going to the doctor isn’t a cure for diabetes or hypertension. A continuing care plan may recommend that a person continue with outpatient therapy, go to A.A. meetings or find some other form of fellowship where they can interact with sober people in a healthy way. It includes friends or loved ones who can hold the person accountable for going to meetings or doing drug screenings, and it includes a list of people the person can call if he lapses or feels tempted to.

Most people would find it wrong to blame a doctor for a diabetic patient’s death if the patient received good clinical care but then didn’t follow the doctor’s orders to check blood sugar and take medication. A treatment provider also gives a professional prescription for ongoing care, and then it’s up to the client to follow those recommendations and come back for guidance if needed. The treatment provider gives the tools to manage recovery, but using them is up to the client.

Several months after Mindy McCready finished her stint on Celebrity Rehab, Dr. Drew said he had high hopes for her recovery, but it was up to her: “Like with anybody I treat, it’s really up to them. I never know. If they do the work they’re supposed to do, yes (there can be success). If she does the work it will be great.” When we bring someone into treatment at Phoenix Houses of Florida, it’s a major investment on our part and theirs—one we wouldn’t want to trivialize by airing the drama on a TV show or by creating extra distractions and pressure. Our clients take a courageous step when they enter treatment, and we make sure they leave with a roadmap to stay on track.

Jack Feinberg
VP and Clinical Director,
Phoenix Houses of Florida

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  • fred brown

    I am certainly not going to make a judgement on the question if Dr. Drew is responsible for celebrities deaths. However, almost EVERY TIME that he has appeared on various television programs like The View, there is something that makes me uncomfortable in the way that he speaks about addiction. I am not aware at least in the many times that I have seen him that he has defined the difference between addiction and dependance. Further, I have never heard him say that there are some people that do in fact need strong pain medications for legitimate pain reasons. I do realize that some people do think that its funny to play around with medications and they are playing with FIRE…
    There is just something in his mannerisms in his approach that always makes me feel uncomfortable. These are my personal views.

  • Virginia

    I get uncomfortable when ANY mental health provider chooses to do any type of counseling or therapy in front of an audience. Therapy and counseling are supposed to be for the client’s benefit, not for the glorification of the therapist or entertainment of the masses. I also have on numerous occasions heard these “public therapists” speak publicly in detail about cases they have no direct connection to. They should not be commenting on the mental health status, addictive behaviors or recovery status of anyone. If they are not treating the person, they don’t have the full story. If they are treating the person, they are bound by federal confidentiality laws-i.e HIPAA or 42CFR for substance abuse. This behavior is unethical and dangerous and their professional and licensing agencies should sanction them.

  • Susan Weinstock, M.D.

    During a recent presentation, the Director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse stressed the importance of appropriate treatment medications in helping individuals maintain recovery. If Dr.Drew’s patients did not receive potentially life-saving medication, like suboxone for opioid dependence, they were placed at higher risk of overdose.

  • barbara pierce

    people are so misinformed. to begin with drew has several successes form his care. also why blame the caregivers when you have cancer do you blame the healthcare providers? this is a personal decision to get and stay sober.

  • tammy creswell

    I truely beleive dr. Drew does his job very well. No one person addictions and lifestyles are comparable. I have had my own personal struggles with addictions and just by watching celeberty rehab from the very first season to the last season, I myself found the courage and strenth to get the help I personally needed. I’m very proud to say, I am doing very well today because of dr. Drew. I truely beleive without dr. Drew, I would not be alive and well to this day. Thank you dr. Drew. Tammy c.

  • Sam

    Once again the almighty dollar takes over good judgement. If Dr?. Pinsky really knows the responsibility he undertook with the lives of addicted patients, he would not have treated them in front of TV cameras and then said goodbye when he got paid. His bank account grew while he left these patients to fend for themselves and in some cases commit suicide

  • lisa featherston

    No he is absolutely not to blame for their deaths. The Dr. Gives these people the tools to get better. What they choose to do with them is their own doing.

  • Donna

    I’ve got some of the videos that Dr. Drew did for the Rehab show… These echo what other people hear when they go through rehab, or even when people are trying to get them to quit abusing these substances. They go into the process and signing releases to show these things – probably at a financial benefit to them… they may get their rehab at a discount. But the big point is, they show that a rehab program involves work… and if you don’t do the work, or do it properly, you won’t get the results you want.

  • Joe Cerda

    I agree with what was said in a previous comment. The time between a Counselor and a patient is confidential. I refuse to believe that Dr. Drew did not know this. The guy was after the all mighty dollar and the fame associated with it. I watched his show a couple of time and didn’t like what I saw.