A Q&A with Jamie Lee Curtis

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Q: What led you to speak out on opioid addiction?

I spoke out because someone else spoke out before me. When I was at the height of my addiction to painkillers, there was an article in Esquire magazine called “Vicodin, My Vicodin.” It was written by a man named Tom Chiarella who, in writing the article, outed himself to his friends, family and colleagues as a Vicodin addict. It was the first time I understood that someone else was enmeshed in painkillers as I was, and he gave me the confidence to tell the truth on myself. It was not my intention to do it publicly, but as a public person, while promoting one of my children’s books, I acknowledged in an interview that my life had gotten better because of my being sober then over two years.


Q: What was a turning point for you that led you to seek treatment?

That article was really the beginning of my looking in the mirror and understanding that I had a problem. I reached out to someone I knew in recovery, and they introduced me to someone who then took me to a recovery meeting. I was lucky that I didn’t have to go to a rehab facility and have been able to stay sober through the program of recovery and the community of fellow addicts with whom I share my story and listen to theirs. My being sober is without question the single greatest accomplishment of my life. I lost a brother at 21 to a heroin overdose, and both of my parents struggled with alcoholism and addiction their whole lives. I take sobriety very seriously. I talk to a lot of people who share addiction.


Q: Do you have any thoughts on where blame might lie for the current opiate epidemic?

Obviously the ease of access to prescription painkillers is the cause of this current epidemic. I will tell you that I would be dead today if opiates were available on the internet in 1999 as they are today. I think reclassifying the drugs has helped and obviously, as always, it is famous people who succumb to the same problems that everybody has, that gets the attention that then creates the change. The sad deaths of Michael Jackson, Prince and Carrie Fisher highlight that sad truth.


Q: What is the biggest problem facing the opioid and heroin epidemic that policymakers should address?

I think the biggest problem is the overprescription, the collusion with doctors who are so overstressed with their workloads and the drugmakers themselves. The hands-on, real time between a doctor and their patients is diminishing. Without palliative, hands-on, leaning in and listening care between a doctor and their patients, I’m afraid the epidemic will continue. Also, I hope that corporations and companies will offer substantive drug and alcohol rehabilitation for their workers. That will go a long way to helping.


Q: What are the most common misconceptions about addicts?

Part of the reason that I have been so public about my own struggle and success with alcohol and pain killers is that I am hoping to destigmatize the image of an opiate addict. Sadly we are seeing that opiate addicts are everywhere and from every ethnic and socio-economic strata. They are in the clergy, the medical profession, the legal profession, law enforcement, teaching and every other profession. It’s important for people to understand that opiates don’t discriminate. 


Q: Where/what should policymakers focus on with their investments to promote addiction treatment?

I am a card-carrying adult and a card-carrying addict in recovery. I think it would be wrong for me to make an assumption that I have any real idea on how to help in the treatment for addicts and alcoholics. Obviously, there are myriad places and programs that focus substantial resources toward treatment and recovery. I’m old-school. There are free recovery meetings all over the world with open doors, open seats and open ears and arms. They saved my life.


Q: How can family members and friends talk to addicts? 

As often happens, addicts will seek out the drugs they crave from many places. I once stole my sister’s prescription pain medicine for an injury she sustained and I was so ashamed and afraid to tell her. She responded with loving care and concern. Not judgment or scorn. I think the most important thing is compassion and understanding for family members to offer their loved ones. True understanding and I hope support as their loved one seeks treatment. The truth of the matter is it is a self-diagnosed disease, and there’s great pride in raising your hand and claiming your seat as an alcoholic or an addict. You have to look in the mirror, because when you’re looking in the mirror, you’re looking at the problem.


Q: What are some challenges that opioid addicts face in their daily lives? 

Everybody has problems. Everybody struggles. Everyone. No one gets a pass on living life. The only thing I can tell you is that I knew I was in trouble and I took advantage of the help that was made available to me. That help was free and is widely available.

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