Culture

Mail Call: New Weapons in the War on Drugs

' The Hunt for an Addiction Vaccine ' : Readers urged caution about the new medical treatments for addicts. "After reading about the new drugs we'll be using to deal with drug addictions, I hope readers didn't put down the magazine before reading 'Sadly, There Is No Magic Bullet'," one said. Another wrote, "If we're going to start treating addiction like the disease it is, then insurance companies must cover addiction treatment like other diseases." Others touted traditional therapies. "The medical establishment may regard AA as church-basement quackery," one said, "but AA has brought sobriety to many: it works."

On ' With Friends Like These ' :"Why did The New York Times endorse John McCain when it was frantically working on a scathing article against him that was published recently?"
Hany Hanna, Sioux Falls, S.D.

The Ongoing War Against Addiction
A simple biochemical view cannot explain why 90 percent of heroin-addicted Vietnam veterans were able to quit once they returned home ("What Addicts Need," March 3), why people with drug addictions often substitute nondrug activities such as compulsively cleaning the house or why a person picks up a drink even after years of abstinence when faced with a serious loss or another reason to feel overwhelmingly helpless. These examples suggest an emotional origin to addiction—a breakthrough concept for addicts once they are introduced to a more substantive way to think about themselves. Addiction is hardly as simple as the biochemical reductionists would have you believe, but neither is it a problem without an essential solution close at hand.
Lance M. Dodes, M.D.
Division on Addictions, Harvard Medical School
Boston, Mass.

Your cover package on addiction is a great contribution. However, it essentially overlooks the importance and value of families in treating such disorders. Addiction develops within a family/social con-text, and most addicted adults are closely tied to their families. But this isn't necessarily just a "genetic problem," since only 14 to 36 percent of children of alcoholics de-velop drinking problems, and the majority of those who do develop addictions do not demonstrate a genetic predisposition. Rather, such problems are often precipitated, and reignited, by (usually unexpected) family deaths or other kinds of losses. The "cause" goes beyond simple biology. In fact, there are at least 65 randomized clinical trials documenting the effectiveness of family or couples therapy for such problems. These studies also show that involving family members can greatly decrease clients' likelihood of prematurely dropping out of treatment. Partly for those reasons, 82 percent of adult alcohol and/or drug-treatment programs, and all the programs the Department of Health and Human Services has deemed "exemplary" for adolescents, provide family/ couples treatments for their clients.
M. Duncan Stanton,Prof. Emeritus
Spalding University
Former White House Consultant
Louisville, Ky.

As a 28-year clean and sober recovering alcoholic, I have seen enough deaths, miserable lives and social costs to applaud all approaches that offer hope. Although Alcoholics Anonymous opened the door to a new life, I am convinced that there are other ways. Like Phoenix House founder Dr. Mitchell Rosenthal in the article "Sadly, There Is No Magic Bullet," I am convinced that there is far more to addictions than the physical aspects. Some unique confluence of elements prevents addicts of all sorts from healthily processing uncomfortable feelings and dealing with them. Failure to find effective ways to do that always seems to cause transfer of addictions and/or other major problems, often with terrible additional consequences. Even with wonderful advances in drug therapy, we need to be very alert to the increased incidence of suicides as medications "take away" unhealthy, but more or less (if temporarily) workable, coping behaviors without adding ways to deal with root emotional dysfunctions. My hope is that researchers will spend as much energy understanding other factors affecting addiction as they do pursuing the pharmacological route.
Frank W.
Sarasota, Fla.

As a six-year recovering alcoholic, I agree that genetics and many other key factors play a part in addiction. I also believe that for many addicts, using "disease" and other such words falls under the mighty and weighty umbrella of "pity city." Believe me, I know. I created my own personal hell but, fortunately for me, I was able to escape and move forward with my life. In the very wise words of my father, "It's all in your head," and for the most part, he is right.
Chris Dorsch
De Pere, Wis.

Thank you for your informative and comprehensive cover story on addiction. As the mother of a heroin-addicted son who took his life 12 years ago, I know only too well what does not work. I no longer mourn his death but the life he was denied. Let's hope that the millions of dollars wasted on the criminal-justice system can be diverted into the community mental-health system, so that continued research on the brain and addiction can proceed. My son's legacy says it: "Cool it, Mom. You can't compete with heroin."
Rita Lowenthal
Santa Monica, Calif.

While it is good that pharmacology may eventually provide the means to alleviate the pain and suffering associated with substance addiction, I am concerned that such a treatment may do more harm than good. Does our victim-oriented society really need another excuse for people not to take responsibility for their own lives? Addiction starts after the substance is sniffed, swallowed or injected. If there is the perception of no price to pay, what do you think will result? Just look at the obesity epidemic and the multibillion-dollar industry devoted to its treatment.
Kevin J. Barry
Salem, N.H.

Obama and U.S.-Israel Relations
More than a sendup of divisive political strategy, "Good for the Jews?" (March 3) calls attention to the potential of a new McCarthy era in which intelligent discussion about issues surrounding Israel can lead one to be blacklisted as anti-Semitic. The expectations by some American Jewish leaders that Barack Obama should not receive advice from persons who have acknowledged there is a powerful Jewish lobby that influences foreign policy or have any sympathy for Palestinians demonstrates this. If Obama or anybody distances himself from individuals who intelligently and respectfully present an unsanctioned position regarding Israel, then a blacklist is in effect. Obama's message is one of inclusion and diplomacy. Not all Muslims are terrorists; not all Christians are evangelicals; not all critiques of Israel policy or American Jewish leadership are anti-Semitic, and not all Jewish leaders are polarized thinkers. It is my profound hope that the Jewish community can shake off the horrors of the past and understand that it is possible for their countrymen to love them, respect Israel's right to exist and be sympathetic toward the Muslim community.
Candace Veach
Santa Monica, Calif.

Poor Health Coverage for Asthma
I am a middle-class mother of a 3-year-old with asthma ("Every Breath They Take," PERISCOPE, March 3). She has been admitted to the hospital twice with flare-ups. My family has health insurance, but our prescription-drug coverage doesn't kick in until we reach our high deductible. Once a month I pay at least $330 for medication out of my pocket. Once a month I get a searing reminder of how broken our health-care system really is. When I walk away from that pharmacy window, I have two thoughts: How is it possible that our health-care costs are so high? And what in the world do families who can't afford it do? As David Noonan and others in his article point out, it is unconscionable that we let kids with this disease go untreated. It is time to fix a health-care system that is entirely out of whack.
Katherine S. Lacommare
Howell, Mich.

Shake Your Body, Do the Mambo
Robert Farris Thompson's Feb. 25 My Turn, "Mambo on My Mind," brought a tear to my eye. I also spent much time at New York's Palladium. As a drummer, I found it important to master the rhythms of Latin music that were then sweeping the country. There was no better way to learn them than from the master himself, Tito Puente. I memorized his every move by watching him perform. He taught me how and when to use the cowbell, rimshots, accents and cymbals, which I applied with my own little group. And by watching and studying the steps, moves and body language of some of the great dancers, I became quite good at the mambo, cha-cha, merengue and all the other Latin dances. This provided entree to the in crowd. I was no longer the shy, timid wallflower, the outsider looking in. Latin music had changed my life.
Joe Shavil
San Diego, Calif.

For the Record
"Antiterror Help Wanted" (PERISCOPE, March 3) is correct in noting the National Counterterrorism Center as a "bright spot" in intelligence reform but wrong in two other respects. Let me set the record straight. First, I believe we are strategically safer as a result of having gone into Iraq. As I have consistently stated in congressional testimony and interviews, a major reason for our not being attacked since 9/11 has been our strategy of taking the war to the terrorists. That assessment clearly includes Iraq, which Al Qaeda considers a critical battleground. This security has not come without a price. My comment in the 10-second TV sound bite (lifted out of a 40-minute interview) that we were probably not "tactically" safer referred to the loss of life of the courageous members of our military due to Al Qaeda's action on the Iraqi battlefield. Second, the backhanded implication that I was forced to resign is pure poppycock. I left because I had to have total knee-replacement surgery on both knees, period. That decision was discussed with the White House and director of National Intelligence well before the airing of the interview. I left NCTC confident that a strong team with a strong leader in Mike Leiter was in place. The day-to-day performance of NCTC—and, indeed, the entire counterterrorism community—in keeping the country safe for more than six years is the story you should focus on.
Scott Redd,Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
Former Director, NCTC
Washington, D.C.

Leaving the Nest
Anna Quindlen's March 3 article, "Home Cooking," brought me to tears with the complete recognition of the many emotions that surface as our college grads venture into the world on their own. My two sons have their degrees, and my daughter in college stops home often enough to do laundry and throw a frozen pizza in the microwave. It is such a strange, somewhat melancholy wistfulness I feel, as I think Quindlen does, about redesigning our lives without them around.
Deb Crowder
Swanzey, N.H.

So often when I read Anna Quindlen's writing, I recognize my own jumbled, complicated thoughts and emotions neatly and cleanly sorted out. But never more so than in "Home Cooking." I read the column to my husband, and, reacting to my tears, he reminded me that it will be a long time before I'm overseeing a truly empty nest. Still, my 4-year-old son got an extra-long hug that night before bed.
Tracy M. Mcgrady
Springfield, MO.

I chuckled when reading Anna Quindlen's essay, especially the part about the hand-me-down pan ("You can use this pan for everything!"). For you see, I still have the hand-me-down metal pan that my mom gave me when I got my first apartment at the university, some 32 years ago. A few months ago at a potluck, someone commented on the scratches and tried to clean the discoloration from the corners of the pan with steel wool. I told her that they were "history," and we laughed. That pan still makes some of the best noodle kugel or baked chicken this side of Mom's kitchen!
Alan L. Goldberg
Tucson, Ariz.

Corrections
In Jonathan Alter's column "Hillary Should Get Out Now" (March 3), the reference to Barack Obama's then 925,000 lead in the popular vote incorrectly stated that that total included the disputed votes in Florida and Michigan. It does not.

Tip Sheet's "Planners Wanted ASAP" (March 3) reported that "Virginia Tech in Martinsville offers undergraduate majors as well as master's degrees in financial planning." In fact, it is in Blacksburg, and offers undergraduate courses, not degrees, in financial planning.

"Every Breath They Take" Misidentified Sara Rosenbaum's academic affiliation. She is chair of the department of health policy at the George Washington University School of Public Health. NEWSWEEK regrets the errors.