Coming to Terms with Addiction Bill Moyers Examines What May Be America's No. 1 Health Problem in an Upcoming 5-Part Series on PBS

By McAlister, Nancy | The Florida Times Union, March 24, 1998 | Go to article overview

Coming to Terms with Addiction Bill Moyers Examines What May Be America's No. 1 Health Problem in an Upcoming 5-Part Series on PBS


McAlister, Nancy, The Florida Times Union


William Cope Moyers, the eldest child of Bill and Judith Moyers,

started recreational use of drugs during college days.

Unfortunately, he had a vulnerability to alcohol and drugs his

friends didn't share.

It was during a successful journalism career that eventually

took him to CNN that the 30-year-old began coming to terms with

his addiction. He realized, said his father, that he was sick

and needed to be treated just like someone with cancer or

diabetes.

After going through the experience with their son, the Moyerses

decided to put a human face on addiction. "My wife and I thought

we were sophisticated about addiction until it came close to

home," said the award-winning broadcaster who has received more

than 30 Emmys in his 26 years on TV.

The result is Moyers on Addiction: Close to Home, a five-part

series that begins Sunday on PBS. The production examines the

issue called America's No. 1 health problem by Brandeis

University Institute for Health Policy. It looks at dramatic

personal experience as well as the latest scientific inquiry and

public policy analysis.

It is also the centerpiece of a national outreach campaign

designed to raise awareness about a problem that destroys

individuals and tears families apart.

William Cope Moyers, called Cope by his family, has relapsed

several times in his battle against drug use. One relapse was a

year after treatment, another three years later. But the father

of three has become a leader in the recovery field, this year

becoming director of public policy for Hazelden, a treatment

center in St. Paul, Minn. A frequent public speaker, he appeared

recently at a conference of mayors at which one delegate praised

him for showing a white face to a problem mired in racial and

socioeconomic stereotypes.

The moral judges include those who don't consider addiction a

disease but rather a matter of choice and weak will, Bill Moyers

said in a telephone interview. That thinking is "dead wrong,"

said the best-selling author, who spoke briefly of his son's

struggles with treatment and relapses over several years.

"Addiction is a chronic relapsing disease. Relapsing is as

normal a part of recovery as remission and the return of cancer

are to cancer patients."

Indeed, it is the scientific study of addiction that

particularly intrigued the Moyerses when, working as

co-executive producers, they began assembling their team for the

special. In Sunday's segment The Hijacked Brain, Moyers joins

Steven Hyman, director of the National Institute of Mental

Health, and other neuroscientists as they take images of a

cocaine user's brain.

Advances in genetics, brain chemistry and behavioral studies

offer great new hopes for treatment, said Thomas McLellan, a

researcher at the University of Pennsylvania in Monday's

episode, Changing Lives. For helping addicts looking for

treatment, he said, "this is the best of times."

Before his own personal inquiry, Moyers said he knew nothing

about how drugs change the brain.

"I had no idea of the extent to which the brain is permanently

compromised by chemicals. I did not know why it is that people

who are addicted will sacrifice everything -- good food,

shelter, health, work, the fetus in the womb -- to satisfy that

hunger for a chemical fix. I didn't know relapse was normal. I

thought it was defeat. I've learned how hard it is to recover.

This is a tenacious disease difficult to beat."

Moyers speaks passionately about this subject, which follows a

long, impressive list of documentaries he has produced on

subjects ranging from the power of myth, God and politics to

facing evil and hatred. …

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