Drug Task Force Member Appears on Nat’l Shows

by Andrew Davis

Jim Pickett, a member of the Chicago Task Force on LGBT Substance Use and Abuse ( formerly known as the Chicago Crystal Meth Task Force ) appeared on a segment of the Dec. 13 airing of The Mike and Juliet Show, a nationally syndicated program, to discuss the controversial drug treatment PROMETA. Hythiam, Inc.—the company behind PROMETA, which is being used to combat meth, cocaine and alcohol dependence—has pointed to addicts who claim the treatment has turned their lives around and a recent 30-day randomized study that allegedly showed a “statistically significant reduction of cravings over placebo in treatment-seeking subjects.” However, critics point to the fact that the program has not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and say that the numbers of said study were skewed.

When asked about what he thought of his appearance on the show, Pickett told Windy City Times that he felt that he got his message across. “Would I have liked more time? Absolutely,” he said. “Do I think I got my point across? I do.”

Others who appeared during the segment were Dr. Matthew Torrington of the Prometa Center of Los Angeles, Hythiam Vice-President Chris Hassan and Dr. Lori Karan, a researcher at the Drug Dependence Research Laboratory at the University of California San Francisco; Karan, along with Pickett, talked about waiting for established proof before championing PROMETA. At one point, Pickett said that the situation with the treatment seemed to be one of “profits before proof.”

“The thing is that we care about treating patients correctly,” Pickett continued saying to Windy City Times. “We’re not against having people feel better; we just don’t want people buying snake oil. If we didn’t have science and procedures in place, we’d have diabetics sniffing a flower or AIDS patients taking special multivitamins. ... All the anecdotes and testimonials in the world don’t prove the point.”

Pickett also talked about the name change of the organization, which also reflects a shift in the group’s mission. “We’re actually going back to our roots,” he said. “Before the Chicago Crystal Meth Task Force, we had the Chicago Task Force on LGBT Substance Use and Abuse. We spent several years laying out a framework, but [ then ] crystal became the number-one concern for people, and we felt like we needed to focus there. But all along, we said that the majority of gay men in Chicago are not using crystal; it’s a special issue and it deserves concern, but it doesn’t address most of our lives.
“We have a complicated relationship with substances in our community. Alcohol is one of those complicated substances. We also know that, through our research, that 40 percent-plus of gay men use illicit substances. There are also kinds of other letters in the alphabet that we’re playing around it—and we can’t ignore it. ... As Simone [ Koehlinger, another task force member ] said, ... ‘We need to address our health more holistically.’”

Pickett added that the public will start to see changes. For example, the Crystal Breaks Web site will be dismantled, “but the information will be integrated into Lifelube.org, our gay men’s health portal. ... We hope to have everything incorporated into Lifelube in the first quarter of 2008.”

The meth initiative known as Project CRYSP will still be intact, but Pickett said even that has taken a broader aspect. “The tag line is ‘More than crystal prevention—promoting healthy communities,” he said.

When asked if the expansion of the group’s mission would result in tackling all of PROMETA’s treatment protocols ( regarding alcohol and cocaine as well as meth ) , Pickett responded, “While our talking points have focused on crystal, the issue is that it is untested for what it is saying it works for. It hasn’t proven the point for crystal, alcohol or cocaine. ... We’ll be following PROMETA very closely.”

Pickett also appeared on The Live Desk with Martha McCallum, a FOX cable show. Torrington’s satellite feed disconnected, giving Pickett a lot more time than he had expected. “It was [ originally ] set up for the curmudgeon [ referring to himself ] to be on for 10 seconds,” he joked.

To see the PROMETA segment on The Mike & Juliet show, see www.mandjshow.com/videos/medical-cure-miracles .

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