Don’t create your own obstacles. Self-defeat is useless. The world is going to throw obstacles in front of you all the time. The loftiest paths to the loftiest goals are usually beset with huge hurdles. Don’t put them there yourself, that’s unnecessary.
As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Addiction Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Joseph DeSanto.
Dr. Joseph DeSanto is a Board Certified Addictionologist for DeSanto Clinics and addiction specialist with addiction treatment solutions company, BioCorRx.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit of your backstory?
I am a Board Certified Addictionologist working with a treatment center in Orange County and with addiction treatment solutions company, BioCorRx. I am a grateful addict in recovery, husband to a wife who is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the field of addiction and mental health, proud father to two children who have seen me through the worst of times, a former FM radio talk show host and friend to those who will have me in their life. I became addicted to opioids in 1998 and struggled to get sober for 14 years. I finally got the help I needed after almost losing everything including my life: my family, my medical license and everything that I thought was important. After hitting the “reset button” on my life, I was given the opportunity to pursue it with a new passion and desire to help others without reservation and to love others unconditionally.
Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work with opioid and drug addiction?
To say that my own struggles brought me to the field of addiction medicine would only be part of the story. The other part is that I’ve always been intrigued by how addiction changes a human being completely. They act, look, speak differently and will give up most things they hold dear and close in pursuit of a drug or activity that has little meaning in and of itself. An addict will risk death, divorce, poverty, imprisonment, public shame, loss of children, their spouse, and extended family just to try to achieve a feeling of euphoria or escape. The insanity of this is beyond interesting and I was always perplexed as to why most clinicians didn’t want anything to do with this particular specialty and the population of patients that come with it. I was also intrigued at the potential for novel treatments and genetic breakthroughs as a possible way to treat and possibly cure disorders in this field. I was lucky enough to have mentors like Dan Headrick, Stuart Finkelstein, and idols like Gabor Mate and Daniel Amen to inspire and teach me along the way.
Can you explain what brought us to this place? Where did this epidemic come from?
This isn’t the first opioid epidemic and I’m sure it will not be the last. The Abyssinians were the first to write about the poppy as the “happy plant”, and I’m sure they named it so for good reason. England and France fought the Opium Wars to keep the tenuous trade routes to China and the Far East open because it was a lucrative business and the demand for opioids hasn’t gone away. Since then, we have learned how to purify and market many opioids. The food industry added narcotics to beverages and supplements before they were formally regulated. Physicians prescribed opioids to anxious housewives and teething infants, and injured victims of war were the guinea pigs for morphine and codeine. Pharmaceutical companies made opioids mainstream in the late 20th century. These companies knew how lucrative these medications could be and launched a major 10-year campaign to ensure that opioid prescriptions would become commonplace. Once thought only to be used for cancer and chronic pain, powerful opioids were now indicated for minor pain. Pharma misrepresented these opioids to physicians as having low addiction potential while at the same time lobbied to have the AMA make pain a focal point of the patient’s syndromes, mandating pain become the “fifth vital sign”. This made it more likely that doctors would prescribe opiates. Drugs like Vicodin were making drug companies billions, and doctors had patients lined up for prescriptions, also profiting from these drugs. Patients were happy too, as one would imagine. What the unsuspecting public didn’t realize, was that this was all setting the stage for the next large opioid epidemic. Soon thereafter, physicians were censured and sanctioned for overprescribing. Patients found that their “supply” was slowly but surely cut off and without the right resources for treatment and weaning, these patients turned to street opioids to avoid the pain and suffering of withdrawal. It’s clear to see how all of this was a perfect storm.
Can you describe how your work is making an impact battling this epidemic?
There are some days I feel like I make little impact at all. I mean, how do you beat the euphoria of Fentanyl? And how do you spread a message that not only needs to be heard, but also be felt? If the rising numbers of people overdosing, committing suicide, or becoming homeless because of addiction and mental illness doesn’t send a clear enough message, what could? The work I do is hopefully touching enough people, for a long enough period of time, that this message can be carried by the converted. The message that needs to be spread, starting at a grassroots level, by people who have recovered successfully, who are proud of their recovery, and pass that message on with their heart.
Wow! Without sharing real names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your initiative?
I’d love to tell you a good story about the one guy that I helped that went on to cure cancer or solve world hunger, but it’s not like that at all. It’s all about giving, without expecting anything in return, and the payback is usually forward, exponentially. I was particularly proud to be part of the City of Kindness campaign that Mayor Tait put together in Anaheim, Calif. a few years ago. I offered my services with BioCorRx by offering naltrexone implant procedures to anyone suffering from alcohol or opioid addiction and we saw that it did make a huge difference in a city where many homeless gather and are forgotten. Naltrexone has made a huge impact on how I practice addiction medicine, and we are one of the few clinics in Southern California that offer the BioCorRx Recovery Program.
Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?
What makes me most grateful and proud is working with my staff, especially Mary, my office manager, who also doubles as a surgical assistant, medical assistant, phlebotomist, hand-holder, bouncer, and “Guardian of the Gates”. There are silent, beautiful moments that we share where we both know that we’ve made a positive change in someone who was counted out by society. My practice is like a daily viewing of the film, “Rocky”, where we cheer for the underdog, but just like in the movie, Apollo Creed, not unlike addiction, wins the split decision. But some days are like Rocky II, where we actually win. But almost all days are like Rocky III, where we wind up chasing a chicken around most of the day.
Can you share three things that the community and society can do to help you address the root of this problem? Can you give some examples?
It’s simple. All responsible parties need to take responsibility.
Pharmaceutical companies need to take responsibility for lying to doctors about the addictive potential of strong opioids and continuing to allow ludicrous amounts of opioids to reach the streets.
Doctors who over prescribe should be reprimanded and redirected. There is a need for Pain Specialists to be allowed to prescribe on the higher end of the spectrum for those patients who have a measurable need and these doctors should be allowed to prescribe with a different set of regulations.
The government needs to take responsibility for the flow of illicit opioids into our country through cartels over our borders and eliminate recently passed laws that effectively prevent the DEA from doing their job of detection and prosecution of back door pharmacies, which are responsible for prescription opioids diverting to our streets.
If you had the power to influence legislation, which three laws would you like to see introduced that might help you in your work?
Decriminalize all drugs and tax and monitor quality and quantity. Provide social support with the tax money raised from sales. The Portuguese model serves as a successful model but ran out of funding and interest too soon.
I would create more needle distribution sites, that are policed and staffed with treatment professionals who can offer education to addicts in a safe environment when they are ready to seek help.
Make treatment available for all who need it, including mental health and addiction services for all.
Encourage the family unit to stay together through financial incentives. Addiction starts when a baby is born into a household that is unstable, violent, or neglectful.
I know that this is not easy work. What keeps you going?
God, Guardian Angels, and my patients.
I have made a deal with my God. I promised that if He were to get me through what I went through to be the person I am today then I would spend the rest of my days trying to reach as many people as possible to show them that it is possible to recover.
I have Guardian Angels that have kept me safe and blessed. They work overtime, even now, to keep me on the holiest path.
My patients are the most amazing group of people with the best backstories. Every day is a chapter in a drama/comedy/true crime/comeback story type novel, and my patients are the stars. They are the smartest, most interesting, and loving people I have ever met. I get to watch them save their own lives, but I also see sad endings. Needless to say, every day is a new adventure, and every patient is a potential comeback story. Who doesn’t love a comeback story?
Do you have hope that one day this leading cause of death can be defeated?
Yes. I always have hope. The day I lose hope is the day that I lose my sobriety and my purpose.
Treatment options, like those offered by BioCorRx Recovery Program, continue to keep my hope alive as I watch passionate innovators continue to bring new options to patients like mine.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is actively guiding by passive example. You can tell someone what to do, you can do it for them, and then they can show someone else. A good leader is someone who inspires their followers with passion, humor and real experience, and with as little ego or judgment as possible.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1) Stop trying to look perfect. Perfect people are boring at parties.
2) Don’t ever use the word “should”. “Should” implies that you are comparing something to something else. If you say, “I should be…”, then you are setting yourself up for feelings of inadequacy without constructive motivation since you are typically comparing yourself to an ideal standard.
3) You deserve to be happy, no matter what. You probably won’t be most of the time and that’s your own fault and responsibility. But no matter what, you deserve to be happy.
4) Don’t create your own obstacles. Self-defeat is useless. The world is going to throw obstacles in front of you all the time. The loftiest paths to the loftiest goals are usually beset with huge hurdles. Don’t put them there yourself, that’s unnecessary.
5) Don’t be a jerk. Just because your dad was a jerk doesn’t mean you have to be one too. (I don’t really think my dad is a jerk, I think he’s a passionate objective bystander.)
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The core elements of this movement would be inspiring self-love and self-respect. You can’t force someone to like someone else, through media, press, laws or otherwise. And you can’t force someone to love themselves. When are we going to see that? You inspire self-love by listening to someone. Every human being wants to be heard. We all want to be seen, loved, respected and counted. We want to know we mean something to at least one other person.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You aren’t done until you’re done.” If you’re a real addict or alcoholic, you know exactly what I mean.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
There are actually two people, Dr. Gabor Matè and Dr. Jordan Peterson. One is a rematch and one is a new request.
I had the pleasure of dining with Gabor Matè at an Indian restaurant in North Hollywood after he interviewed Ione Skye on her own addiction issues. He practically begged to debate with me, but I was so in awe of being at the same table with him, I couldn’t bring myself to disagree with anything the man said. Several years later, I am now ready to give him a piece of my mind!
The other person I’d love to dine with is Jordan Peterson. The man is absolutely brilliant and the greatest wordsmith I have ever heard. I just recently discovered that he was addicted to Benzodiazepines, one of my drugs of choice, and he has some opinions and misconceptions that I’d like to debate and explore. He is also a depth psychologist, and I find that field as ethereal and innovative as Addiction Medicine.
Can we also invite Russell Brand?
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I try to stay off social media but I do have a website, DesantoClinics.com and my radio show website, recoveryshow.org, is home of The Recovery Show with Doctor Joe and Angelina, which I co-hosted on 101.5 FM KOCI, with my now wife, Angelina Gripp, who is attending Pacifica University for her PhD dissertation in Depth Psychology.
Also, please visit the website beataddictionnow.com to find out about the comprehensive BioCorRx Recovery Program that my clinic offers to give you the best chance at success at getting and staying sober.