Ben Affleck Reflects on Rehab and Sobriety

Ben Affleck Reflects on Rehab and Sobriety: This Week in Addiction and Recovery News

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Actor-director Ben Affleck posted a heartfelt message to his Instagram account on Thursday, following a 40-day stint in alcohol treatment. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Affleck said that getting help is a “sign of courage, not weakness or failure” and that he’s found the “strength and support” to be vocal about his struggles with alcohol addiction in order to help others. “Battling any addiction is a lifelong and difficult struggle,” Affleck continued. “Because of that, one is never really in or out of treatment. It is a full-time commitment. I am fighting for myself and my family.” He also thanked the countless people who reached out to him via social media to share their own struggles with sobriety and stories of recovery. “Your strength is inspiring and is supporting me in ways I didn’t think was possible. It helps to know I am not alone,” he observed. Affleck checked into a Malibu rehab facility this past August, which marks the third time he’s sought treatment for alcoholism.

Actress Emma Stone Opens up About Lifelong Anxiety

Academy Award-winning actress Emma Stone revealed this week that her life has been plagued with anxiety and panic attacks from an early age. Stone, currently starring in the Netflix series Maniac, opened up about her struggles during an interview with the Child Mind Institute’s Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz. “After first grade before I went into second grade, I had my first panic attack. It was really, really terrifying and overwhelming,” she told Dr. Koplewicz. “I was at a friend’s house, and all of a sudden I was convinced the house was on fire and it was burning down. I was just sitting in her bedroom and obviously the house wasn’t on fire, but there was nothing in me that didn’t think we were going to die.” While she was later diagnosed with generalized anxiety and panic disorder, Stone admitted that she didn’t want to know the diagnosis at all, given the still-present stigma around mental health in Hollywood. “I wanted to be an actor and there weren’t a lot of actors who spoke about having panic attacks,” she said. “You don’t have to be actor to over anxiety, you don’t have to be a writer to overcome it. You just have to find that thing within you that you are drawn to.”

“Venom” Actor Tom Hardy Reveals Alcoholic Past

It’s perhaps fitting that Tom Hardy’s latest role requires himself to wrestle with something sinister within himself. That’s after Hardy told Good Morning Britain that he’s been a “bog-standard alcoholic” for his entire life—a statement that’s not so much a revelation as a reminder about how far the 41-year-old actor has come with his addiction struggles. Hardy has previously detailed his decade-long battle with alcohol and crack cocaine, finally ending up in rehab in 2003. In fact, Hardy sees his past as excellent prep work for the role of an investigative journalist whose body is invaded by an alien symbiote: ‘There were elements of [having to keep myself in check], like my inside voice,” he acknowledged. “I can see the symbolism there, but I know that as a grown up and as a man I can’t go out there and bite people’s heads off.” Hardy cites acting as the something that’s helped him through his recovery, not to mention an increased focus on physical fitness. No matter what, though, Hardy is keenly aware that addiction is right around the corner, if he’ll let it: “If I had four pints of lager and half a bottle of vodka I could turn this room into an absolute f**king nightmare in about three minutes. I could destroy everything in my life I have worked so hard for.”

Why Does Opioid Dependency Vary Between States?

While every state is wracked by the opioid epidemic in one way or another, a new research study reveals that some states are affected by the crisis more than others. According to MarketWatch this week, the nation’s hardest-hit states are currently California, West Virginia, Kentucky, Florida and Rhode Island. The data comes from a New York-based market research firm that examined over 25 billion medical and dental insurance claims between 2002 and 2017. (West Virginia had the most opioid-related claims last year, while Nebraska had the biggest single-year jump in overdoses at 33%.) One significant factor in why some states experience higher opioid use than others is the shift from prescription medication to illicit drugs like fentanyl and heroin, starting in 2012. States with lower household incomes may be prone to opioid abuse, too, since “Americans on a low income may not be able to afford alternative care or surgery, which effectively means they would have more need for opioid prescriptions to deal with chronic pain.” The story painted a stark portrait (literally) of the opioid epidemic in the US, claiming that it’s only “getting worse.”

30% of Opioid Prescriptions Are “Unexplained,” Study Reveals

A recent study (conducted by Harvard Medical School and the think tank RAND Corporation) yielded a disturbing, if not mind-boggling statistic: nearly 30% of all opioids prescribed in the US have “no medical record of why they were given to the patient.” Over a 10-year span, 66.4% of opioids were prescribed for non-cancer pain while, conversely, 5.1% were given to cancer patients. The remaining 28.5% of opioid prescriptions is the mystery, according to the study.“For these visits, it is unclear why a physician chose to prescribe an opioid or whether opioid therapy is justified,” said Dr. Tisamarie B. Sherry, lead author of the study and an associate physician policy researcher at RAND. “The reasons for this could be truly inappropriate prescribing of opioids or merely lax documentation.” While poor record-keeping could be to blame, the story observed, physicians may have also “simply missed recording the medical justification for an opioid, perhaps due to time constraints, clinic workflows or complicated documentation systems.” Either way, the gap remains as troubling as it is wide—one that can only be solved through improved collaboration between tech companies, regulators, researchers and law enforcement officials.

US Senate Overwhelmingly Passes Landmark Opioid Legislation

The Senate quickly passed sweeping legislation on Wednesday to help curb the nation’s opioid crisis, USA Today reported. The bill passed 98-1 (Utah’s Republican Senator Mike Lee was the single “no” vote), while the House passed the measure 393-8. Next stop: President Trump’s signature. Among the bill’s many provisions are requirements for all international packages reaching the US to carry advanced electronic data about their contents. The measure also empowers the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to force drug companies to package and sell opioids in smaller amounts, while the FDA will also update info on non-addictive treatments for chronic pain. Also, Medicaid dollars would go directly toward paying the costs on in-patient drug-abuse treatment. And while Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. praised recent bipartisan work to help her opioid-ravaged state, she’s realistic about the future: “There’s no one silver bullet when it comes to the epidemic of opioids, but one thing is for certain, I and we will keep fighting,” Capito said. “We will fight back against those who are bringing deadly drugs into our communities.”

Man Who Overdosed on Viagra Sees Nothing But Red

In a bizarre story picked up by the New York Post, an unidentified 31-year-old male overdosed on erectile dysfunction medication and now suffers from a permanent red tint to his vision. According to the story, the man purchased the liquid form of sildenafil citrate (commonly sold as Viagra) without a prescription. He promptly drank more than the recommended 50mg dose and soon after, he began to see a red tint in his field of vision and experienced flashes of light. These were, unfortunately, not short-term side effects of the overdose. Doctors found that the drug had “permanently damaged the cells in his retina that control color processing” and diagnosed the man with “retinal toxicity.” One year later, his symptoms haven’t gone away, either. “People live by the philosophy that if a little bit is good, a lot is better,” lead investigator Richard Rosen, MD, observed. “This study shows how dangerous a large dose of a commonly used medication can be. People who depend on colored vision for their livelihood need to realize there could be a long-lasting impact of overindulging on this drug.”

Fentanyl Test Strips Successful in Preventing Overdoses

Researchers reported on Wednesday that illicit drug users are increasingly using fentanyl test strips to protect themselves from overdoses, The Washington Post said. The research study was limited to 125 injection drug users in Greensboro, N.C. over an eight-week period last year. Still, the findings were darkly eye-opening: “Users whose drugs tested positive for fentanyl were five times as likely to change their behaviors than users whose strips were negative.” Users wouldn’t throw their drugs away, the Post quickly added, but they were certainly more mindful of how they consumed the drugs. (Rather than injecting the drugs, many users opted to snorting them.) “The illicit market is basically poisoned” by fentanyl, said Jon E. Zibbell, one of the lead researchers. “These strips allow people to test their product to see if fentanyl is in it. Knowing what is in your product is the first step to being able to adapt to that product.” While it’s not a solution to combat illicit drug use, many lawmakers see it as a good first step toward harm reduction. Overall, 43% of the study’s users claimed that they’d changed their drug behavior, thanks to the strips. An additional 77% said the strips “made them feel safer.”

Utah: Opioid Overdoses Have Fallen 20% in a Year

With all the doom and gloom surrounding the US opioid epidemic, Utah emerged in this week’s news cycle with an unexpected ray of hope for other states. According to The Salt Lake Tribune on Monday, opioid-related overdoses have plummeted in the state by 20% over last year. While the majority of the year’s 360 fatalities were owed to opioid painkillers or heroin, it’s a marked improvement over 2016, which registered 449 total deaths. State officials now believe they’re better equipped to deal with the problem, for one thing. They’re armed with real-time monitoring tools that can help direct health and law enforcement to where opioid deaths are “clustering” and, therefore, determine where doctors might be overprescribing. The state is also distributing and training first responders how to use the overdose-reversing drug naloxone, the story added. As for the decline over 2016, it doesn’t appear to be a fluke, either: the Tribune reported that this is the third straight year in a row that Utah experienced a decline in prescription opioid deaths. And while the first quarter of 2018, sadly, saw more fatalities than any single quarter in 2017, Utah is clearly committed to using data and analysis to fight the problem like never before.

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Paul Fuhr is a writer who lives in Columbus, Ohio with his family and two cats named Dr. No and Vesper. He's hard at work writing a novel and putting his life back together.