bioephemera

NIDA acts out addiction

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The federal government, including NIH, isn’t exactly seen as a hotbed of artsy drama types. (“Faceless gray mega-bureaucracy” might be a more typical descriptor.) So I was tickled to learn that the National Institute on Drug Abuse is framing a series of continuing medical education (CME) courses about addiction around dramatic readings of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. And no, we’re not talking about cheesy readers’ theater – they got Debra Winger and several Tony nominated stage actors to participate.

As a threshold matter, this is cool because it shows that NIH recognizes that interdisciplinary activities raise the profile of science. Addiction is a difficult diagnosis that overworked primary physicians are often loath to screen for, or involve themselves in, even though they care about their patients. So if this gets primary physicians’ attention, that could help more people get in the door to evidence-based treatment.


But even more than simply getting people’s attention, I think this project constitutes recognition that art captures things about the human experience that science – even very good science – doesn’t really measure. A dry graph representing the proportion of alcoholics who relapse over time doesn’t have the same urgency as seeing someone struggle with relapse; a clinical list of symptoms doesn’t have the same force as watching an actor suffering from morphine addiction. Bringing science and drama together in a single event is synergistic: the clinical framework imposes medically actionable criteria on the human experience, while the human experience links those criteria to what a physician will actually see in the exam room, and in turn to what is happening in her patient’s life.

NIDA says,

The Addiction Performance Project is a CME program that offers healthcare providers the opportunity to help break down the stigma associated with addiction and promote a healthy dialogue that fosters compassion, cooperation, and understanding for patients living with this disease. This project is part of NIDAMED, NIDA’s outreach to practicing physicians, physicians in training, and other health professionals.

Each performance begins with a dramatic reading of Act III of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night by award-winning professional actors. The reading is followed by a brief expert panel reaction and facilitated audience discussion. Topics may include:

* the challenges and opportunities in caring for drug-addicted patients in primary care settings,
* physician biases, and
* how best to incorporate screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment into primary care settings.

There will be performances in Boston, Washington DC, and Phoenix starting at the end of March. For more information on physician registration, visit NIDA’s Addiction Performance Project website.

vintage movie poster: copyright production studio and/or distributor, via