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Bill Moyers' Family Working to Reduce Stigma of Addiction, Increase Treatment


March-April 1998

On March 29, PBS began broadcasting "Moyers on Addiction: Close to Home," a five-part series on drug and alcohol addiction and treatment (Howard Rosenberg, "Moyers Takes Poignant Look at Addiction," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), March 27, 1998, p. B8; Daniel M. Kimmel, "All in the family gets new meaning with 'Addiction,'" Boston Herald, March 27, 1998, p. 47; Dudley Clendinen, "Anonymous No More: As Addicts Go Public," New York Times, April 2, 1998, p. A24, Eric Gibson, "Addiction Lesson In Five Parts: Sick, Blameless," Wall Street Journal, April 3, 1998, p. W11).

Moyers said he and his wife and production partner Judith knew little about drugs until they discovered that their son William Cope Moyers, now 38, was addicted to drugs and alcohol. Despite two relapses following treatment, Cope Moyers is recovering and is now director of public policy at the Hazelden Foundation, a substance abuse center outside Minneapolis (Christopher Wren, "Bill Moyers's Son: Good Connections and Bad Addictions," New York Times, March 20, 1998, p. A23; David Samuels, "Saying Yes to Drugs," New Yorker, March 23, 1998, p. 48).

"My wife Judith and I thought we knew about addiction, until it came close to home," Moyers said. "What we learned about addiction, and are still learning, prompted this series." He added, "I don't believe in first-person journalism. ... We mention my son in the series, but our ordeal isn't the focus."

Moyers and his wife finally decided to do the series after Judith attended a lecture by Dr. Steven Hyman, director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), on the science of addiction. "Judith came home and said, `Bill, there's news here' and the news is that government policy is not catching up with science," Moyers said. "When I heard the term `War on Drugs," I got mad," he said. "You're waging war on my son?"

Moyers hopes the documentary will let others see that addicts are not lacking in will power but suffer from a progressive and debilitating disease. Once that concept is accepted, Moyers said, the country can move forward to a more realistic drug policy.

In the final segment, "The Politics of Addiction," Moyers focuses on drug policy reform. Despite federal spending projected at over $17 billion this year, the U.S. anti-drug effort has failed to reduce the rate of addiction to illegal drugs. Meanwhile, more Americans are addicted to alcohol and tobacco than to all illegal drugs combined.

Moyers said that many people, himself included, have the image that addicts choose to light up, shoot up or drink, so the negative consequences are their own fault. "I hope that people come to a new definition [of addiction] and they realize that the addict may relapse, just as a person in remission with cancer can have a new onslaught," Moyers said. "It's a chronic problem and people have to stay in therapy." Dr. Annarose Childress of the University of Pennsylvania Treatment Research Center says that vulnerability to relapse "is a cardinal feature of addictive disorders." More than 80% of those who get treatment will have at least one relapse (Bill Moyers, "Addiction Can Be a Disease and a Behavior," New York Times, April 10, 1998, p. A22).

Bill Moyers, an ordained Southern Baptist minister from Texas, served as deputy director of the Peace Corps during the Kennedy Administration, was a special assistant to President Johnson and later was the publisher of Newsday. He has won dozens of awards during his television career, including more than 30 Emmys, and has written five best-selling books.

"If your child comes to you for help, get informed and don't panic. Don't scold or punish," Moyers said. "If your daughter came to you and said she had breast cancer, you would work out a way to have it treated. The same goes for addiction."

Bill Moyers - contact Doris Lange, public relations for Bill Moyers, Public Affairs Television, 356 West 58th St., New York, NY 10019, Tel: (212) 560-6974, Fax: (212) 560-6646.

To order the five-part series, contact PBS - Tel: (800) 424-7963, Fax: (703) 739-5269.

Hazelden Foundation - P.O. Box 11, Center City, MN 55012, Tel: (800) 257-7800, Fax: (612) 257-3176.