Maia Szalavitz, is a journalist who has been covering addiction for almost three decades. She came to speak to our class today and as she began, she told us what it was like in New York in the 80’s. “I always felt like I had toilet paper on my shoe,” she stated. New York was a culture shock for her and she just wanted to fit in. Drugs gave her the confidence to do so. However, it didn’t last because it was during the drug wars and the crack epidemic. One thing she mentioned was the Rockerfeller Laws and how Marijuana was actually taken out of those laws due to how many people were getting arrested.
Szalavitz knew she needed help, and asked for it on August 4, 1988. She has been in recovery since. Everyone told her the only way to get sober was to do the 12 steps. So, she through herself into her recovery. When she got into her recovery, she knew she wanted calm after the chaos. Therefore, she wanted to be a science writer and this led her to begin to write and research the science end of recovery. “Even back then it was really clear, in terms of opiate addiction, people had a better chance of recovery staying on Methodone or Buprenorphine,” she stated.
Szalavitz began to read everyone’s research and write on her own. She wrote the first, first person’s piece about needle exchange, from a person with addiction’s point of view. She ended up getting this massive education on the scientific method and how biased some things can be and the whole point of science is to relieve bias in doing research like this. There is a way to look at addiction scientifically and the way to get these facts across in Journalism is to match the anectodal evidence with the scientific evidence.
She also suggests that the standard 12 step program may not necessarily be for everyone. She stated that we don’t lock up people with diabetes who keep eating sugar. However, if someone with an addiction does relapse, that is the exact thought. This is why so many people don’t come forward and ask for help, because they are morally shamed. This is why it is so important to keep an open mind in covering addiction and to be very careful.
“One thing about getting started when you’re young, is that your mind is not limited by what the reality is,” she said. It makes sense that the FDA would look at today’s recreational drugs and have policies on them, but they don’t. She also spoke about the difference between addiction and dependence and how they are often misconstrued. Having Maia in class today was an incredible experience and hopefully her forward thinking will keep others moving forward in covering addiction as well.