Interviews BLOG

Cliffside Malibu is a drug and alcohol treatment center located in Malibu, California. The philosophy of Cliffside Malibu is to treat the whole person, not just the addiction. An individual therapist working with the client on a daily basis to develop a highly individualized treatment plan accomplishes this goal. The comprehensive plan includes a combination of intensive psychotherapy, physical activity, nutritional support, and alternative therapies from equine therapy to acupuncture. Cliffside Malibu utilizes an approach to addiction treatment known as the Stages of Change model, which allows the therapist to meet an addict where he or she is at with regard to readiness to change and then moving him or her through the process of becoming willing, and then able, to make the changes he or she seeks. We were lucky enough to get in contact with Dr. Damon Raskin, a doctor who works with Cliffside Malibu and specializes in addiction detoxification and medicine, and ask him some questions about the growing trend of prescription drug abuse.

TestCountry: Dr. Raskin, have you noticed a rising trend in prescription drug abuse in your line of work? If so, what demographics seem to be most affected by prescription drug abuse and addiction?

Dr. Raskin: Prescription drug abuse is rising across the demographic spectrum at alarming rates. What is especially worrying is that this broad increase in prescription drug abuse is resulting in a substantial increase in the number of unintentional deaths from accidental overdose of prescription medications.

While physicians and addiction treatment professionals are concerned by this overall increase in prescription drug abuse, there are two demographic pools to which special attention must be paid. Young people, particularly adolescents and young adults, are in a group that we are seeing in treatment centers for teenage prescription drug abuse in greater numbers and at ever decreasing ages. “Pharm parties,” events at which kids, teens, and young adults get together to take whatever pills they can get their hands on, often stolen from family medicine cabinets, are dangerous activities. Also, older adults and the elderly are now becoming addicted to prescription medications later in life, particularly to pain medications, at rates we have not seen previously. This is believed to be because prescription medications that are highly addictive even with relatively short-term use are being prescribed in greater quantities than ever before. Elderly prescription drug use can lead to serious health risks.

TestCountry: Do you have an opinion on which type of drug use is the most dangerous? For example, is prescription drug abuse more dangerous than synthetic drugs, other illicit drugs, or alcohol?

Dr. Raskin It’s difficult to suggest that one drug is more “dangerous” than another drug. The addict’s drug of choice is the one that is killing him. The most dangerous drug for an addict is the one he or she is abusing.

That said, there are some substances to which we all need to pay close attention. Alcohol is still the most widely abused substance in the country. It is abused in tandem with other substances to sometimes disastrous results and it is the most likely substance for a person to be on if involved in an injury-causing automobile accident. One can never disregard the problems related to alcohol abuse. Prescription drug abuse is also extremely dangerous and on the rise for a number of reasons. Because of the numbers of accidental overdoses, many resulting in death, that prescription medications are causing, this is another area of concern. Finally, some of the newer designer or synthetic drugs that are created to get around illicit drug laws are frightening in their potency and toxicity. Some, like the drugs known as “bath salts” or “smiles”, act like a poison once ingested and are proving to be particularly deadly.

However, while I have pointed out areas of concern based on drug abuse trends, there is no “safe” substance to abuse.

TestCountry: How dangerous is prescription drug abuse, not only for the abuser but also for families and communities?

Dr. Raskin The costs related to prescription drug abuse are phenomenally high. You have to consider lost productivity, increased insurance premiums and workman’s comp. claims, criminal prosecution and prisoner costs; depending on the report you read, we’re talking tens of billions of dollars in losses. But as a physician, these are not the impacts I am most concerned with. I see individual patients, so I look at the individual impact of prescription medication abuse and addiction on patients and their families. How can you put a price tag on what it means to a family to lose their mother or grandfather or husband or daughter to addiction?

The greatest danger for the individual who becomes addicted to prescription medications, and even those who abuse them, is that it does not take much to cause an overdose. Prescription medications (and this is true of all drugs) work together synergistically, amplifying the effect of one another. Mixing different types of drugs is like playing Russian roulette. Even a relatively small amount of alcohol, opioids, and central nervous system depressants can cause accidental overdose and death.

TestCountry: What type of underlying conditions cause addictive behaviors to take hold?

Dr. Raskin There is any number of reasons why someone may begin abusing substances and become a full-blown addict. The short answer is that the addict is experiencing some sort of biological and/or psychological pain or trauma. The potential addict feels pain or inadequacy in some area of his or her life – be it child abuse, neglect, bullying, war trauma, sexual assault, a severe accident – the list is almost inexhaustible. But no matter what the triggering circumstance, the addict feels pain and finds that the use of a substance numbs or distances him/her from that pain temporarily. When the effects of the substance wear off, the addict uses again and again, until substance abuse becomes habituated and the body requires the substance to function “normally.” This process is documented in detail in the book, “Ending Addiction for Good,” written by Richard Taite, Cliffside Malibu’s Founder and CEO and Constance Scharff, Ph.D., Cliffside Malibu’s full-time addiction researcher.

TestCountry: As a detox specialist, can you describe for us any stages of detoxification and in what ways, if any, that detox can be harmful to the patient? Should detox be conducted with the help of a professional, or can addicts and their families work on this stage alone?

Dr. Raskin Detoxification, or “detox” as it is commonly called, is the process of separating an addict from the substances he or she abuses. It is a delicate process and can have any number of complications based on the addict’s overall health and medical conditions at the time s/he seeks treatment, the types of substances the addict is abusing, the amount s/he is using and the duration of his/her substance abuse.

It is never wise for addicts to attempt to detox on their own or with their families. It is always safest for an addict to receive a medically supervised detoxification. We have procedures in place to make the process as safe and comfortable as possible. Let me be absolutely clear, there are complications that can arise from detox that a family will not be able to handle. These complications include but are not limited to seizures, psychotic breaks, and death. Again, the type of medical problems and complications one can expect depends on many factors, but no, in all cases it is better to have an addict under the care of a physician for detoxification than trying to detox an addict at home.

Further, the chances of success for a home detox, outside of the risk of complication, are very low. The addict will be in the environment in which s/he uses with the people who enable him/her to use. Once the withdrawal sickness really starts, with no medical help to make the addict as safe and comfortable as possible, how will the family keep the addict from bolting and going right back to his/her old habits? Home detox isn’t safe or successful.

TestCountry: Cliffside Malibu promotes the Stages of Change model of therapy. Can you describe this process for us?

Dr. Raskin The Stages of Change model is a psychotherapeutic tool. It is used by our therapists to assess an individual’s readiness and willingness to change. Addicts come to treatment at various “stages” of willingness and ability to change. It is the responsibility of the psychotherapist to identify the addict’s willingness level to change and then provide the tools s/he needs to progress through the levels of change. This is how we evoke true and complete life transformations at Cliffside Malibu so that people who go through our program really do recover for good. A detailed account of how this model works as a therapeutic tool in addiction recovery is given in Cliffside Malibu’s book, “Ending Addiction for Good.”

TestCountry: Cliffside Malibu has a wide range of practitioners and programs available for its clients. Does having a village of providers and specialists make a difference in the treatment program?

Dr. Raskin The holistic treatment that clients at Cliffside Malibu receive is the difference that makes a difference. It is critical to our clients’ success. I’m a physician. I have the knowledge and training to help addicts detox in a safe, comfortable way. I can attend to their biomedical needs. But I cannot address the pain that caused them to use in the first place. I am not equipped to teach them how to meditate to calm their minds or do more than suggest proper nutrition and exercise. It is the combination of therapies and treatment modalities in a loving, secure environment that makes the treatment protocol at Cliffside Malibu effective. The intensive psychotherapy based on the Stages of Change model and the highly individualized treatment that each client receives builds the foundation for a natural and solid recovery.

I work in concert with psychotherapists, chefs, massage therapists, yoga instructors, acupuncturists, life coaches, meditation teachers, personal trainers, and others to help each client heal at the levels of mind, body, and spirit. Not one of us has the ability to help a client recover on our own. It is the holistic treatment that creates the environment in which the life change that is addiction recovery is possible.

TestCountry: Many of our readers are looking for guidance regarding a family member or friend who is currently abusing prescription drugs. What is the most important piece of advice you would pass along to these readers?

Dr. Raskin Anyone who is abusing prescription medications is in need of immediate help. The person, if not already addicted, is on the road to becoming an addict and needs to be assessed. It is likely that even if the individual has only been abusing a prescription medication for a short amount of time that s/he may need medical assistance to separate from the substance. Further, because of the danger that comes from mixing medications, even over-the-counter drugs, the risk of accidental overdose causing hospitalization or unintentional death is great. To save your loved one’s life, please get them to physician or treatment center as quickly as possible for an instant assessment.

TestCountry: Finally, what is the bottom line for you regarding substance abuse that you think our readers should take away from this interview?

Dr. Raskin More than anything else, if you are concerned that someone you love is abusing substances or has become an addict, I want you to know that there is hope for a full recovery. Addicts can and do recover every day. Technology and information exist now that was not available even ten years ago. It is simply unnecessary to suffer from addiction any longer. I work at a treatment center that is so successful that we are able to guarantee our results for those who complete treatment. I see families restored. I see people presumed too far gone to change recover and lead fantastic lives. Your life can be transformed beyond anything you have imagined.

You can find out more about Cliffside Malibu at