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Anna Lembke: How do we fight the disease of addiction?

Stanford medical doctors Russ Altman and Anna Lembke discuss the rise of the opioid crisis and new ways the medical profession is fighting all forms of addiction.​

The opioid epidemic is first and foremost an epidemic of overprescribing. | Reuters/Mark Blinch

Beginning in the 1980s, medical doctors started treating pain with increasing amounts of opioid medications.

That shift was driven in part by an effort by the profession to be more humane to those in serious pain, but also by misinformation and aggressive marketing by the pharmaceutical industry, which wrongly convinced doctors that their drugs were both safe and not addictive.

According to Anna Lembke, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, those changes wrought the current opioid crisis in which millions are addicted to heroin-like medications and many more are dead from overdoses caused by unregulated, immensely powerful street drugs.

Lembke tells Altman their profession is slowly reckoning with a long-simmering problem of their own making by questioning the indiscriminate prescription of opioids and by championing new approaches to dealing with addiction, including more behavioral dependencies like those to sex and gambling.

A prescription for addiction is on the table in the latest episode of The Future of Everything radio show with host Russ Altman.

You can listen to the Future of Everything on iTunes, Google Podcasts, SoundCloud, Spotify, Stitcher or via Stanford Engineering Magazine.