Jeffrey A. Schaler, Ph.D.

The Washington Times
January 22, 2003

Nothing imaginary about mental diseases

Jeffrey A. Schaler's "Stop funding fake diseases" (Letters, Saturday) poorly addresses the huge social, legal and medical problems of drug and alcohol addiction. Compulsive abuse of alcohol and illegal drugs causes enormous misery to 16 million Americans as well as their families, employers and the communities that must deal with the devastating secondary consequences. The upshot is more than 150,000 dead a year and a $185 billion cost to the economy from the consequences of alcohol abuse alone.

Thankfully, because of the brilliant work of brain neurochemistry experts such as Dr. Alan Leshner, who headed the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and Dr. Herb Kleber, during his years at Columbia University, we know a great deal about the fundamental nature of the addictive process. We have developed science-based treatment protocols that will bring compulsive substance abuse under control, keep people in recovery and drastically reduce the cruel impact of addictive behavior.

As Dr. Sally Satel so cogently argues, drug and alcohol abuse do have an element of choice, and we must hold chronic addicts responsible for their behavior. That is key to the "magic" of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. However, many classic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cancer from tobacco use, sexually transmitted diseases and illness caused by improper diet, lack of exercise or even not wearing seat belts have a volitional element. The sensible policy solution to all of these disorders is science-based prevention and education as well as comprehensive medical and therapeutic care.

I am proud to be associated with Dr. Mitch Rosenthal of Phoenix House, the largest nonprofit alcohol and drug treatment institution in the country, as well as Dr. Barry Karlin and CRC Health Corp., the largest provider of for-profit services. If you have a loved one or employee confronting the chaos and devastation of addiction, you must get that person into treatment. You may save his or her life and bring under control the self-destructive behavior that wrecks families and communities.

U.S. Army (retired)
National drug policy director, 1996-2001

. I am disappointed that The Washington Times would print such an uneducated screed as Mr. Schaler's letter. Obviously he has been spared the awful experience of living with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (aka manic depression) or obsessive-compulsive disorder. These are real, often life-threatening, diseases. They are not, as he suggests, metaphorical diseases caused by character flaws. Medications are available that mitigate many of the symptoms of these diseases, but there are no cures.

Many diseases with no known cures - for example, cancer, diabetes and HIV - have generously funded programs to combat them. We should no more stop searching for the causes of these diseases than we should stop trying to discover what causes potentially deadly mental illnesses.

I suggest that Mr. Schaler get the facts and some compassion before he spouts such ignorant drivel. Perhaps he should watch the movie "A Beautiful Mind." Then he might come to better understand the tortured lives of schizophrenics, who certainly are not faking it.

May God bless Mr. Schaler and his family with continued mental health.

Montgomery Village, Md.