Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Risky Rehab

I mentioned Dr. Drew Pinsky yesterday, the man who launched Celebrity Rehab in 2008 - a show aimed at ... well ... rehabilitating addicted celebrities. The show was a hit for VH1. Unfortunately, Pinsky's batting average - at least when it comes to TV counseling - doesn't appear to be so great.

It's nasty business to talk about because I'm sure Dr. Pinsky is a very nice man who cares about his patients even more than his handsome silver-haired headshot, but five (5!) celebrities who've been treated by Dr. Pinsky on the show have died of addiction-related complications or committed suicide in the last two years.  Pinsky says this will be his last season on the show because he's sick and tired of being blamed for his patients dying.

"Addiction is not a curable condition," he told the The New York Times on Sunday in response to all the negative press. He says he "feels defeated" by the deaths.

The Times isn't the only media outlet he's been complaining to about his bad rap. After another former patient/star of the show, country music singer Mindy McCready, took her own life in February, Pinsky made the talk show rounds trying to dispel the cloud of suspicion that was beginning to surround his particular brand of prime time counseling.

He even commiserated with Dr. Oz who was sympathetic to his situation. People don't blame Dr. Oz when one of his heart patients dies, do they? No! But because we're all so ignorant about the 'incurable' nature of addiction, we don't mind pointing a finger at Pinsky when something goes wrong.

What's ironic about the whole situation is that Dr. Drew casually calls himself a 'workaholic' in the Times. And if you look at his CV, you can see what he means. In addition to Celeb Rehab, he hosts and/or produces five other radio or TV shows, including a traveling podcast with comedian Adam Carolla. Plus he does lots of other serious doctor-type stuff at various universities and medical centers. Not to mention counseling his own patients one half-day a week at his office in Pasadena.

Did I mention he's written five books (one of them with Carolla) including one about the dangers of celebrity narcissism? (Also ironic.) And just two months after McCready shot herself, he was also hosting the reunion of Mob Wives for VH1. Not because he's a doctor - but because he's a fan!

Workaholic for sure! Poor fella. He should really get some help for that.

Of course, being a workaholic is not really a medical condition. Even so, calling oneself a 'workaholic' when one of your many jobs is to treat actual addicts seems a little insensitive to me. But for all his dewy-eyed soul-searching on TV, is Dr. Drew really the most sensitive healer on the planet?

How's this for bedside manner - when he talked to McCready about a month before she shot herself, he actually told her to "seek help" in overcoming the death of her boyfriend. Now McCready was no longer Pinsky's patient and I don't know what the circumstances of the phone call were (maybe he was busy on the other line renegotiating his contract for VH1), but could you imagine if your shrink - even a former shrink - told you to get help ... from someone else?! I know therapists can't weld themselves to self-destructive clients forever and referrals are part of the business, but it could've come off as rejection to Mindy. And that must've been pretty brutal on her self-esteem. It certainly can't be helping Pinsky's conscience.

I think one of the reasons I'm so pissed about this is because Jeff Conaway is one of the Celeb Rehab deaths. That's right, Kenickie from Grease, the hit musical that absolutely made the summer of 1978 for me. Just by coincidence, we had it on the turntable over dinner last night. (We're up to the G's in my corny soundtrack collection.) So we talked about Pinsky, Conaway - and addiction - quite a bit.

Conaway was admitted to an Encino hospital in May of 2011 on what appeared to be an overdose of pain medication (he'd been treated for back pain ever since an accident while shooting 'Greased Lightning' for Grease!! Oh cruel twist of fate!).  It was Dr. Drew who diagnosed Conaway with pneumonia and sepsis (a severe whole-body infection).  He was put into a drug-induced coma. Three weeks after his admittance, he was taken off life support. He died the next morning at 60 years old.

Another one of the Celeb Rehab deaths was Rodney King who died last summer at only 47. After the news, Pinsky told The Hollywood Reporter "Rodney King dies of a heart attack and I take the blame for that? ... It's just ridiculous." Actually, the coroner's report concluded that King died of accidental drowning in his own swimming pool. And that marijuana, alcohol, cocaine and PCP were contributing factors to his death. Details, schmetails, I know. But still. I don't know what's worse: that Pinsky forgot how one of his ex-patients died or that he's trying to rewrite history one interview at a time.

Worse than anything, I think it's irresponsible to imply that addiction is 'incurable' just because treatment is not a perfect science yet. Hundreds of thousands of people - probably millions worldwide (they don't keep good statistics on these things!) get clean every year. Addiction is a complex condition, for sure - but to say it's 'incurable' makes it seem so hopeless. It's not! Whether you choose counseling, cleansing, cold turkey or doing the 12 steps, addiction problems can and do get better. So don't let Dr. Drew's defeatist attitude discourage you from doing what's right for yourself.

btw - according to Wikipedia, Pinsky was actually torn between his desire to become a doctor and his dream of becoming an opera singer! Maybe his next stint will be as a judge on The Voice.  Everyone should be safe on that one.

Here's the Sunday Times article on Dr. Drew. And more info about his professional troubles from Jezebel.com. RIP Jeff, Rodney, Mindy, Mike  and Joey.  Here's hoping the rest of the cast are happy, healthy and doing well!

And in honor of Kenickie, here are the boys from Grease!