Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: drugs (page 1 of 2)

Can we cure drug addiction with drugs?

So the National Institute on Drug Abuse has given $3.7 million to a professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy to make the first drug in the U.S. and maybe in the world for cocaine addiction from an ancient Chinese herbal remedy.


Corydalis—in Chinese, yan hu suo

This is the pretty little herb: it’s called corydalis—in Chinese, yán hú suo.

The active ingredient in this plant is called l-tetrahydropalmatine, or l-THP. Professor Jia Bei Wang and colleagues from the pharmacy and medical schools are going to take five years to study whether l-THP actually works to decrease cravings for cocaine. Apparently clinical trials could start within the year.

It’s interesting: l-THP, as corydalis herbal extract, is unregulated and available for purchase on the Internet. I wonder what kind of “drug” they’ll develop from it… considering traditional Chinese medicine practitioners have, according to my encyclopedia of herbal medicine, been using corydalis root successfully since the eighth century?

More from my encyclopedia about corydalis:

A painkilling herb that stimulates the circulation, controls spasms and nausea, and has sedative and antibacterial properties. Research also suggests action on the thyroid and adrenal cortex. Used internally as a sedative for insomnia, and as a stimulant and painkiller, especially in painful menstruation, traumatic injury, and lumbago.

This seems to jive with current thinking about l-THP—apparently the same orientation that Prof. Wang has—which says that the chemical blocks dopamine receptors (which by all accounts would give it sedative action). There are research papers out there that also suggest l-THP is good at ameliorating effects of chronic opioid administration in animals (so what’s called good for the crack addict will also likely be called good for the smack addict).

Jia Bei Wang

Jia Bei Wang, Ph.D.

This is important recognition for the validity of traditional Chinese medicine and its potential impact on Western practice, and I’m real happy for Prof. Wang. 🙂

But personally: I’d be kind of reluctant to take anything on a regular basis that fiddled with my dopamine receptors. Just because I’m personally kind of reluctant to take anything on a regular basis at all anymore. (I take a couple of anti-epileptics at low doses for my migraines and fibromyalgia, in fact the doses are so low that the pharmacist questioned whether one of them was even therapeutic… I have mixed feelings about taking pills every day, but the fact is, despite recovering from addiction, I still have pain.) And also, fiddling with dopamine receptors is a dodgy proposition. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that controls desire, appetite, creativity, sexuality and joy. Man o man, fiddling with that… But if that stuff isn’t present, you’re stuck in the pit of anhedonia, you’re dying to experience life, and that’s why you snort your lines, I can see why you’d want to figure out some fast remedy for the cravings.

And about those cravings: I was taught that you can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that got you there.

In other words, to solve a drug problem, drugs might not be the best solution…

But here’s another point: I know cocaine addicts (and heroin addicts and Oxy addicts and alcohol addicts and fentanyl addicts, you name it) who don’t have those cravings or that anhedonia anymore. While it might be great to find a pill that would get rid of cravings—I know there are many people for whom they never dissipate—why aren’t they studying what’s going right in those of us who no longer have them?

Scientists are frequently holding up fMRI scans and pronouncing dire conclusions about the “warped pathways” in addicts’ brains. Have they followed up on us after we get the kind of help you can’t get in a pill? (And I’m not just talking about the spiritual solution… though that’s part of it, for me and many others. I’m also talking about good nutrition, good exercise, good sleep, being part of community, and productive work—all the stuff you can’t patent and sell in a bottle.)

Scan me. I’d be curious to see whether my own dopamine and opiate pathways are still warped.

Addiction and art: Niki de Saint Phalle’s “Shooting Pictures.”

Took the past few days off to roam London.

I love London more than most cities, and I am more familiar with it than any big city in the U.S.

But there were some things I hadn’t seen before. The Tate Modern, for instance. Hell, it’s only 10 years old…

Andy, at the Tate Modern.


Here’s a little discovery I made in London: Niki de Saint Phalle.

“Shooting Picture,” by Niki de Saint Phalle, 1961

Actually, the painting was “shot” by Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, using polythene bags filled with paint and enclosed with plaster, against a blockboard backing.

But Niki de Saint Phalle liked making these pictures herself. She liked making them so much that, two years after this picture was made, she had to stop making shooting pictures altogether. She explained,

I had become addicted to shooting, like one becomes addicted to a drug.

I know addicts who have become addicted to “shooting.” It’s just as difficult for them to stop “shooting” as it is for them to stop wanting the drug that gets them off. Maybe even more. They adore the needle at least as much as they love what’s in it.

I stood in front of this picture for a long time… I was with some artist friends of mine, and we looked at the craters the paint-bombs had made in the plaster, the bleeding of the paint against the bruised skin of plaster and wood, and we talked about how someone could have become “addicted” to making paintings such that she had to stop making them.

“What is it about the compulsion that’s so destructive?” I asked my friend. Because I have always thought of my own art as generative and constructive.

“Power,” my architect friend finally said:

Haven’t you ever SHOT anything? It’s power.

Prescription drug addiction taking deadly toll in Montana

Montana is gorgeous big-sky country, and it is also damn isolated and boring. Apparently some of Montana’s kids are now turning to prescription opiates to liven things up a bit.

The Missioulian is covering a two-day conference at the University of Montana bringing together law enforcement and treatment providers to discuss how to address chronic pain and addiction.

According to Montana state crime lab statistics, in 2008, the year for which most recent data are available, at least 320 Montanans died as a result of prescription drug overdoses. The Missoulian reports more people died from prescription drugs in 2008 than from car accidents. In addition,

A federal study ranked Montana third per capita for the number of adolescents abusing prescription drugs, finding that nearly 10 percent of Montana’s youth is abusing prescription opiates.

The state attorney general and 240 treatment providers talked about how to treat both addiction and chronic pain effectively. Which is great: usually there’s a lot of talk about how to lock up all the junkies. The AG said,

I don’t believe that by any measure we are going to arrest and prosecute our way out of this problem. It would be not only naïve but misplaced to believe that is the case. We need effective drug treatment.

Growing number of young professionals face opiate addiction

Insight House drug and alcohol treatment facility in Utica, N.Y. is seeing a 20-25 percent increase in clients addicted to opiates, including Vicodin and OxyContin. Many are young professionals who are prescribed the medications for pain following surgical procedures, and wind up becoming addicted.

Insight House has added two extra weeknight groups to handle the growing demand for treatment for opiate addiction.

The fact that the medications are prescribed by physicians makes people believe they have a lower potential for addiction than, for example, street drugs such as heroin. In fact, street-opiates and pharmaceutical-opiates behave the same way in the body.

Watch video

Knitting for Sobriety

Logged onto one of my Facebook groups one day—a group called Knitting for Peace—and found a plea from Joanne Pearl, a clinical supervisor at Odyssey House, an outpatient substance abuse facility in the South Bronx:

I have started a knitting/crochet group to teach healthy leisure skills. My folks love it. I am writing as I have run out of supplies. I am hoping you can all dig into your stashes and donate those odds and ends you know you will not be using. I am also looking for needles.

Well, it just so happens that I have a HUGE “stash”—of yarn, and lots of knitting needles. Aside from my own yarn, we had cleaned out my father’s house after he died in 2007 and I’d found a bunch of unfinished crochet projects my mother had left when she died in 1999. I don’t crochet and neither does my sister, and, unable to consign them to the landfill since my mother had started them with her own hands, I’d been holding them until the right opportunity presented itself.

I sent them in a big box to Joanne.


Later we talked about her work teaching recovering addicts to knit and crochet…

G: What are the drugs the women you’ve worked with have used most?

Joanne: In outpatient, by far the biggest is cannabis, because in the community it’s just seen as so socially acceptable.  Then cocaine, alcohol, heroin. … When they come in saying that smoking cannabis isn’t really drug-use, I just nod and say, “OK … And while you were smoking that cannabis, did you lose your job? Did you fail to graduate from high school? How many goals did you abandon while you were smoking?”

G: When did you first start working with people struggling with addiction?

Joanne: I was a non-academic dean at a liberal arts college in Westchester County in the late 1990s, when heroin was making a resurgence in New York—it was even on Wall Street. At my school, we had the poorest of the poor to very wealthy students. And I learned that individuals are stunted in personal development because of drug use.

G: How did you come up with the idea of using crafts to help people recover?

Joanne: I was working in inner-city Yonkers, at an outpatient day-rehab for women and children. That was where I started the crafts. The director there was a very “crafty” woman and she was open to the idea.

Boredom is the hugest trigger for relapse and drug-use: “I’m bored, I don’t know how to fill up my time.” When addicts are bored, the first thing they think of is going to a bar and getting drunk, finding their drug of choice, or going to a club, which means they have to spend money. They don’t have healthy leisure skills. They don’t think about watching a movie, talking with friends, reading, or just taking a walk. They haven’t learned to develop that alone-time. They don’t want to think or feel. Boredom comes on very quickly in those recovering from addiction—in a matter of five or 10 minutes.

G: What do the women you work with like about knitting and crochet?

Joanne: One beautiful thing—knitting and crafting is something you can do by yourself. Around here, there are like ten 99-cent stores where you can pick up some yarn and needles—so it’s not cost-prohibitive. It can be a lifelong skill.

It can include all age-groups. I had two girls here of 8 and 10 [relatives of a recovering addict]. They came to me one day: “Miss Joanne, what are those sticks and balls of string?”

G: So there’s something healing about making things and being creative…

Joanne: It teaches them to be patient. There’s a woman who graduated several years ago who keeps coming back to show me what she’s made. She’s learn to turn her mistakes into design elements, and she’s actually designing her own garments now. She says, “I never feel alone or bored—when I start feeling bad, I put on my shawl and my hat and I pick up my needles, and I feel better.”

It also becomes a forum where therapy goes on. It frees up the mind so they can speak. They talk about their remorse over losing a child, or past domestic violence or sexual abuse.  They offer each other support. It’s a magical tool.


My mother’s unfinished projects have gone to Amanda, a 60-year-old recovering addict who came to Odyssey House after residential treatment. “She’s a crocheter,” Joanne says. “She always came to the group, even when it wasn’t too stable.” I can’t think of a better person to finish my mother’s work.

Visit Odyssey House’s website

Become a fan of Odyssey House on Facebook

Join Knitting for Peace on Facebook

Older posts
Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On Twitter