Actor Chevy Chase Reflects on Painkiller Rehabilitation

Comedian and actor Chevy Chase, best known for his roles on "Fletch" and the "National Lampoon’s Vacation" series, has recently reflected on his time in Rehab to treat a painkiller addiction during the 1980s.

Chase’s discussion of his rehabilitation comes after the death of former President Gerald Ford, a friend of Chevy Chase. The actor recently credited Betty Ford, wife of President Ford, for his recovery, stating that if she hadn’t stepped forward with being honest about her own alcohol addiction and starting the clinic, he would not have sought assistance in stopping his own addiction.

Chevy Chase’s 1970s impersonations of President Ford on Saturday Night Live are still remembered, and began a friendship between Chase and the late President.

The actor recently talked about his stay at the Betty Ford Clinic in an essay for the New York Times, though it was nearly 30 years ago, citing that his addiction to painkillers began after he endured back pain. He recalled seeing Mrs. Ford visiting the clinic and being part of the center, and that President Ford joked often and was accident-prone.

Now called The Betty Ford Center, the facility is a licensed Chemical Dependency Recovery Hospital located in California and has assisted a long list of celebrities with drug or alcohol recovery, such as Johnny Cash, Mary Tyler Moore and Elizabeth Taylor. Its residential campus combines several treatment approaches, offering patients outdoor spaces for reflection, group settings for discussion and numerous exercise options. Patients can choose from a 30-day inpatient program or a non-residential day program, typically lasting 60 or 90 days.

Treatment programs at the Betty Ford Center follow the outline of the traditional 12 Step program, first created for Alcoholics Anonymous and now part of thousands of recovery groups worldwide. An individual plan of care is developed for each patient, and a strong alumni network is also part of the support system.

Prescription opioid painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin are one of the most highly abused drugs in the U.S., with more than five million people believed to be living with the addiction. Many patients who receive short-term prescriptions for the painkillers following surgery or an injury quickly become addicted; others, especially teens, first acquire the drugs illegally without medical need.

Opioid painkillers have a powerful and twofold reaction on the body – they block the experience of pain but stimulate the experience of pleasure. Tolerance builds up rapidly, causing the user to seek more and more of the drug to get the same effects. However, once addicted, stopping can bring serious withdrawal symptoms and cause the pain to return at an intense level. Recovery typically requires medical intervention at a detoxification center.

Celebrity stories like Chevy Chase and many others who have admitted to painkiller addiction is helping remove the stigma from the addiction so that others can step forward for help, but physicians are also being urged to undergo specialized training in prescribing painkillers and in learning how to identify patients who are at highest risk for developing the addiction before prescribing the medications.

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The Pain of Addiction

Vicodin addiction often starts innocently enough. Most people start taking Vicodin or other pain medications after surgery or an injury. But then they can’t stop. They need more to get the same pain relief. They start doctor shopping to get more pills. And the cycle continues until it takes over their lives.