In the aftermath of Mac Miller’s death of a suspected overdose, Backstreet Boy AJ McLean announced his plans to help people addicted to opioids with “at home, non-narcotic” detox kits. But experts say there’s no good evidence to back up the type of treatment McLean is promoting.
McLean, who has himself struggled with substance abuse, told TMZ Miller’s death was “sad” and that “people need to understand that addiction is one of the biggest epidemics in the world.”
He then said opioids are a “huge killer.”
“Unfortunately the drugs they give you to kick opiates, people get hooked on.”
McLean then alluded to an at home detox kit he’s working on bringing to the market.
“I’m going to have some information soon. I’m getting involved with a company which will manufacture an at home, non-narcotic, opiate detox kit.”
But Dr. Hakique Virani, a public health and addictions specialist at the University of Alberta, told VICE some abstinence-based detox treatments can actually increase the risk of death.
“I don't know what ‘detox kit’ AJ McLean is promoting, but detoxification is not a recommended first-, second-, or third-line therapy for opioid use disorder,” Virani said.
Recommended treatments include medications like Suboxone and methadone (called agonist therapies), which help control withdrawal, as well as psychosocial supports, Virani said.
“Agonist therapies are associated with dramatic reductions in overdose death as well as death from all other causes. As far as I know, no detox kit has those effects.”
Calgary-based public health researcher Rebecca Haines-Saah, told VICE McLean’s statements fuel misconceptions about how to treat addiction.
“There’s… this problematic divide right now that says something like methadone or Suboxone is perpetuating the cycle of addiction. People pressure their loved ones to be abstinent or to find other cures,” she said. “We have seen this with celebrities jumping on the bandwagon for things that are perceived as a natural cure or a wonder drug and it has quite dangerous effects for the public when they see a celebrity associated with it.”
While withdrawal is not necessarily fatal, Haines-Saah said someone who attempts and fails at abstinence can be at a higher risk of overdose if they then go back to using the same illicit substance they were using before attempting to stop.
She said Suboxone or methadone are a means of getting people a managed dose with medical supervision, which reduces the risk of overdose.
Virani said celebrities can use their platforms to shed light on stigmatized issues. But they should leave the actual doctoring up to experts, “especially when the choice of treatment can be the difference between life and death.”
“People desperate for help might take the advice of anyone they perceive to have credibility. It's why Gwyneth Paltrow can sell stuff for people to stick or squirt in various parts of their bodies without any evidence of benefit and a likelihood of harm,” he said. “But you shouldn't want a Backstreet Boy treating your medical problem any more than you should want me in a boy band.”
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