Posted 10th January 2024

In December 2023, I received an email from a conservative journalist writing for a website. He said he wanted my response to a series of accusations against my books. When I read the accusations, it was clear that he had taken them from Twitter, and they contained such basic errors about what the books say that they could only have been written by people who haven’t read my books.

I sent a detailed reply to the journalist, and after looking at the facts, he has clearly decided not publish these untrue claims.

Since these falsehoods are still there in the more obscure corners of the internet, I thought it might be useful to post the facts about them here too.

1. He claimed I had mistranslated quotes provided to me by interviewees to better fit my thesis, by recasting their agreement with points made by me as moments of their own personal revelations.

He gave no examples of this claim, because there are none in any of my books. Where I interviewed people in a language I don’t speak, I had a fluent native speaker there to translate, and accurately relayed their translation. I quote everyone accurately. The only time the quotes in the book diverge from the audio – as I explain clearly in my writing – is in one scenario. When as part of my fact-checking process I sent the quotes in the book to the person I interviewed, occasionally they asked me to amend their spoken words to more precisely reflect their views, or because they made a factual error in what they said. I have an extensive paper trail of all the emails and audio recordings that prove this, and all the quotes I use are posted on this website.

Wherever I present somebody as having a personal revelation, that is because they had a personal revelation. I have many hundreds of hours of audio of interviews, and I can demonstrate in each case that this is the case.

2. He claimed I had misrepresented the theories of Gabor Mate and others as an unknown, renegade position rather than fairly well-established scientific dissent within the scientific community, and that I had decided to ignore other reputable and non-dissenting work.

I present clear evidence in Chasing The Scream that Gabor Mate and Bruce Alexander’s work has indeed taken a minority and renegade position.

For example, I reported from Vancouver on Dr Mate and Professor Alexander’s passionate advocacy for supervised injection sites. Whilst arguments for SISs have a history going back decades amongst drug treatment specialists, they are illegal in the vast majority of the world and any suggestion that a city or state might introduce them is highly controversial. In the UK a recent attempt to introduce one in Scotland was unofficially sanctioned and lasted less than a year. See this academic analysis of the attempt). Gillian W Shorter, Magdalena Harris, Andrew McAuley, Kirsten MA Trayner, Alex Stevens (2022), ‘The United Kingdom’s first unsanctioned overdose prevention site; A proof-of-concept evaluation’, International Journal of Drug Policy, 2022, Volume 104

It is accurate to say that advocating for a policy that is banned almost everywhere in the world is a marginal and renegade position.

I do not say that their positions were “unknown”: this is a false claim. I name and reference their published books and scientific studies, which could hardly exist if they were unknown.

To address the second point raised here: I present a broad range of views in all my books. It is true there are some views I don’t represent. That is also true of all books ever published. No book can or should represent all conceivable opinions on a topic.

3. He said I had been been criticised for the approach taken in respect of the citation of primary and secondary sources, namely the reliance on a handful of books again and again.

In the endnotes and bibliography for Chasing The Scream, I cite 187 books and over fifty more written sources, in addition to over 200 interviews and original archival research that I conducted in more than a dozen countries. My books are based on a very broad range of sources, referenced throughout the text and endnotes. Nobody could make this criticism if they had read the book.

4. He said “you claimed that there are “slews of studies” to substantiate your assertion that “almost all” drug addicts naturally recover but failed to include any citations to corroborate this claim.”

Again, nobody who has read the book and the sources readers are directed to could make this claim.

Natural recovery is a well documented phenomenon, and my citations direct the reader towards extensive evidence for it. This phenomenon is where people who have an addiction problem recover without any medical intervention or going to a rehab centre. I explain in the book how this phenomenon was first identified, writing:

“It was first spotted by a psychologist named Charles Winick, who set up a free clinic for addicted musicians in New York in the 1950s. Winick, like everyone else, used to believe that once you were a heroin addict, you were a heroin addict until you died, but what he found was something very different. “Heroin use was concentrated in the 25 to 39 group, after which it tapered to very little,” he wrote. Most addicts simply stopped of their own accord. They “mature out of addiction… possibly because the stresses and strains of life are becoming stabilized for them and because the major challenges of adulthood have passed.”

This process—the fancy names for it are “maturing out” or “natural recovery”—is not the exception: it’s what happens to almost all of the addicts around you. This finding is so striking I had to read about it in slews of studies before I really took it on board: Most addicts will simply stop, whether they are given treatment or not, provided prohibition doesn’t kill them first. They usually do so after around ten years of use.”

I have interviewed many leading experts on this question, including Professor Wayne Hall, Dr Sally Satel, Dr John Marks, and Dr Gabor Mate.

In the endnotes I provide several references for this section of the book, including this one:

“A good discussion of this subject is found in Harald Klingemann, “Natural Recovery from Alcohol Problems,” chapter 10 of The Essential Handbook of Treatment and Prevention of Alcohol Problems, edited by Nick Heather. See also Satel and Lilienfeld, Brainwashed, 54–56.”

In that chapter, Professor Harald Klingemann explains how evidence for natural recovery can be established. It is primarily done by interviewing people about addiction problems or heavy drug and alcohol use they engaged in in the past, and then asking them about their current drug and alcohol use. Where they have stopped or significantly reduced their drug use to a non-addictive level, they are then asked if they received any medical intervention or rehab. To give one example, he explains: “Canadian population studies have suggested that about 78 percent of interviewees with alcohol problems have overcome them without professional treatment.”

(I explain elsewhere in ‘Chasing The Scream’ that the largest drug of addiction in our societies is alcohol, and the next most prevalent is nicotine – see below for statistics on natural recovery and nicotine, for example).

Professor Klingemann cites seven books and 57 studies in his endnotes, and I read many of them. They constitute the “slews of studies” I cite in the text, along with many other sources. For a further overview of the research, I recommend reading this paper about natural recovery from heroin:

Some other studies I consulted include: Remission from drug abuse over a 25-year period: patterns of remission and treatment use, 2001. The authors explain: “Most drug abusers who had started using drugs by their early 20s appeared to gradually achieve remission. Spontaneous remission was the rule rather than the exception.”

Even more evidence supporting natural recovery has emerged since the book was published, including:

Is Recovery from Alcoholism without Treatment Possible? A Review of the Literature, 2017 “A growing body of evidence confirms successful remittance of alcoholism can be achieved and maintained over time, without formal treatment. Contrary to common lay and professional perceptions, a significant percentage of alcoholics appear to achieve sobriety without receiving formal treatment.”

Why do smokers try to quit without medication or counselling? A qualitative study with ex-smokers, 2015. “When tobacco smokers quit, between half and two-thirds quit unassisted”

Motivations to quit cannabis use in an adult non-treatment sample: Are they related to relapse?, 2013 “The majority of cannabis smokers who quit do so without formal treatment, suggesting that motivations to quit are an important part of cessation process.” “Other epidemiologic and longitudinal studies suggest that a majority of cannabis quit attempts occur without formal treatment (Cunningham, 1999, Cunningham, 2000, Price et al., 2001, Smart, 2007).”

So in the book, I tell the story of the scientist who first discovered it and direct the reader to a range of reputable books which relay the science in more detail, including the slews of studies I read for research. Nobody who has read the book could claim I don’t provide evidence for it.

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