Preeminent addiction and recovery reporter Maia Szalavitz spoke with us this Tuesday, bringing with her decades of experience reporting on a variety of issues at numerous US media outlets. Szalavitz has experience with addiction as a reporter and as a former user. She has an eye for what is and is not working in the addiction treatment field. Sometimes her own personal experiences help to add a connection between policies and data. When she was arrested in the 80s she was facing strict Rockefeller drug laws that could have sent her away for 15 years or more. She said “If that kind of sentencing worked, New York should have had no crack epidemic. We should have gotten rid of heroin in the 70s.”
She also spoke about how there was a lot of learning and unlearning she had to do when she began covering addiction as a reporter which is something a lot of us in the class are in the process of doing now. We get sets of myths about addiction from a lot of places she said and many of them are not evidence-based. There are myths from the media, recovery programs, authority figures, and from users. There is a lot of misinformation to wade through. Being open-minded and skeptical is important in reporting in general, but some fields like health and addiction have a lot of earnest and well-intentioned misinformation. Szalavitz said that thinking outside the conventional narrative on drug addiction and recovery can also yield new and interesting stories that might be overlooked by someone stuck in conventional ways of thinking about the subject.
She also mentioned, and it is important specifically to covering addiction, that we have to be cautious of selection bias, and not find evidence to fit our anecdote. Instead, we should find an anecdote that fits the evidence. Millions of people are struggling with addiction, but millions are also in recovery. We could interview the people outside the methadone clinic that are misusing the program, but how many just get their medication and go on about their productive day? That is the point of this solutions class—to find and tell the stories of the people who have solutions that are working.