SUD Talks Speech with Leonard Buschel

Florida Atlantic University: SUD Talks April 7, 2018 – First, I would like to thank Gary Kimble and the Del Rey Beach Task Force for inviting me to speak today, and I would like to thank all those afflicted with addictions who are trying to get help who have created our $35 billion a year treatment industry. I’m honored to share this stage with all the other amazing individuals who represent America’s best. My name is Leonard Lee Buschel and I am an addiction survivor. Are there any other addiction survivors here? And who here is passionate about recovery? Regarding my credentials, I don’t have a lot of letters after my name, just the ones I treasure the most, A L I V E.

I used drugs on a daily basis for 26 years. I drank to excess for 10 years. I was hospitalized due to my drug addiction on several occasions including one incident when the North Hollywood Medical Center called my mother in Philadelphia and told her she had better be on the next plane to LA, because there was a 50/50 chance she would be flying home with her son’s body.

Seven years later I went to a 28-day program called the Betty Ford Center and have not gotten high or taken a drink ever since—and that was 23 years ago. By the way, when my 19 year old son said he needed help and wanted to go into treatment 15 years ago-he too, went to the Betty Ford Center for 28 days and was given a partial scholarship because I was an alumni. He too, hasn’t gotten high or taken a drink in the past 15 years

The shot glass doesn’t fall far from the tumbler….

I am also a recovering substance abuse counselor; I worked on the front lines in Los Angeles for a number of years. I worked in Malibu and I worked in the ‘hood.

Ten years ago I founded the Reel Recovery Film Festival & Symposium in Los Angeles. We have since screened over 285 features, documentaries and shorts, in 8 cities around the US, Canada and London. I am also the editor of the Addiction/Recovery eBulletin, which I started 5 years ago. Does any one here get the Addiction/Recovery eBulletin? I guess I’m a bit of a News Junkie, excuse the expression. We aggregate and re-publish articles every week taken from the leading news sources of the world, Including the New York Times, the Guardian UK, CNN, PBS and yes, occasionally TMZ.

Sometimes we just don’t aggregate, we aggravate. In fact I am currently being sued by Sovereign Health of California for reprinting an article from the Orange County Register. The trial starts April 23 in downtown Anaheim. You’re all invited.

We have run over 5,000 articles, videos, book and film reviews and op-eds in the past 5 years. Culled from tens of thousands of news articles. And what I have found after studying addiction and recovery in the news, is that most of the 325,000,000 Americans don’t care about it as much as we would like them to. If you call it a disease, most people think of their uncle who died of cancer or their cousin who died of Tuberculosis. Or their father who died of a heart attack, like my father did. It’s a disease that people love having until they don’t.

It’s a disease that in thousands of cases goes into remission by walking into an AA or NA meeting or a rehab, like what happened to me and my son. How many diseases provoke people to commit crimes against others or their property, or steal cash out of your mother’s purse? In England, they call it an “illness”. Yes, it certainly is an illness. The opiate crisis and the 45,000 overdose deaths a year is a symptom of a far deeper illness. The media has been helpful in bringing these tragic stories to light. I think local TV news has been particularly good at bringing attention to the crisis, but offers no solutions; and I often wonder what that solution is.

Portugal de-criminalized all drugs and it working. We could start with clean needle exchange, safe injection sites and single-payer universal health care for all Americans. Did everyone hear the announcement from the Twilight Zone…I mean the White House on Thursday? The US Surgeon General is suggesting that Americans carry Naloxone, aka, Narcan with them at all times. Soon CVS will be having a sale: Buy one Narcan at regular price, and get an Epipen at half off. Then you just have to be able to tell the difference between someone overdosing from too much heroin and someone going into anaphylactic shook from too many peanuts. Good luck.

So why do so many people tempt death for an hour of bliss? The legendary comedian Lenny Bruce died of a heroin overdose in 1966. Talk about stigma, when the press photographers came to the scene, they asked the LAPD if they would put the needle back in Lenny’s arm for the cameras. Lenny Bruce said doing heroin made him feel like he was being kissed by God. That is some serious competition for our youth compared to the latest free App, mindless YouTube sensation like Logan Paul, or soulless Hollywood remakes.

Many psychologists believe that the cause of addiction is lack of connection, but isn’t it ironic that the person you buy your drugs from is called your connection?

Why is there is a shortage joy, bliss and love in our lives. Not to mention the fear of just going to school. Or a disco. Or a country western concert.

Why else is this generation so anxious? The world is moving so fast, a lot of us can’t handle it. Texting, Instagram, NON-STOP news. I get panic attacks just thinking about it. FAXING is too slow for this generation. And imagine a 15 yr. old having to take the time to find a phone book and look up a phone number and then dialing ten numbers on a rotary phone. Imagine any of us having the patience to do that anymore. In 1970 Alvin Toffler wrote the classic book, FUTURE SHOCK. Anyone here remember that book? “Future shock” is defined as too much change in too short a period of time, And that was 48 years ago when he warned us that most people were not psychologically or emotionally ready and “will experience an abrupt collision with future”. The first Apple laptop did not come around until 19 years later.

It is so sad nowadays with so much violence, between mass shootings and the self-directed violence of the opiate addicted. The world is moving at a faster rate of speed than it has in all mankind. Opiates help people slow down. Yes, it’s an extreme medication, but it works. Who here has used heroin? I smoked about 10 times. It felt like I was inhaling silk I considered getting addicted but decided I didn’t want to ruin my life. But for 15 years I never left the house without some Percodans, just in case my day didn’t go as planned. I do think that there should be Government and Big Pharma funds available so that anyone who wants to go to rehab can do it whether they have money or not, and Big Pharma money should pay for the funerals of all overdose victims. There is no reason to add financial hardship to families already burdened by grief and loss.

But I actually was asked came here to talk about a more uplifting subject—films. I could talk about television programs, but that would take more time than I have here. Who here loves movies? I know I do and that is why 10 years ago I started the Reel Recovery Film Festival & Symposium in Los Angeles. Many of you in the audience run treatment center, sober livings and clinics, So I would like to highlight some films that I think your clients and patient and patient’s families would benefit from being exposed to. I am not going to talk about the classics, but you can’t talk about addiction and alcoholism without mentioning the greats—Days of Wine and Roses, The Lost Weekend, The Man with the Golden Arm, Under the Volcano, and Less Than Zero just to name a few.

After EVERY film we screen, we either have the filmmaker or a clinician engage the audience with conversation and it become a very interactive experience for everyone. We never just show a film that might be triggering and send people home. We always talk about it afterwards..

Who here has seen the movie Half Nelson?

Possibly the best movie about crack addiction ever made. Starring Ryan Gosling as a high school teacher with a “manageable” crack habit. Just last year New York Daily news reported the overdose death of a high school teacher in a bathroom stall at his school. CRACK is a destroyer of lives, Opiates end lives.

The movie, Shame, with Michael Fassbender really informed my ideas about the veracity or claims of sex addiction. It’s an extraordinary film with Carey Mulligan – Directed by Englishman Steve McQueen who’s next film won him the Oscar for best picture, 12 Years a Slave.

I also highly recommend Amy, the Amy Winehouse film. It’s a Devastating Documentary about an enormous talent, as great as the shooting stars Janis, Jimi, and Jim Morrison. Amy did not just die of alcoholism and drug addiction but also an untreated eating disorder.

Has anyone heard of the film Oxy-Morons? Made by an ex oxy-addict in Boston, MA. Based on a true story, about a family that started dealing oxys and ended up hooked. I’ve often said that if this film were shown in high schools, those kids would never pick up. But there is a little violence and a lot of cursing—most school would ever show it.

We have shown a film called Drunk In Public. This is a amazing documentary about a man in Orange County who was arrested 500 times for being drunk in public. Think this guy was an alcoholic? Good thing he didn’t have a driver’s license.

This year saw a sequel to the hit film Trainspotting, which was a spot on depiction of the way English drug addicts get high and live to tell the tale in a sequel 20 years later.

For people in recovery, a really great documentary is…Bill W, which has started to be run on many local PBS stations. An honest film about a complicated visionary. And a excellent companion piece is the Lois Wilson Story, When Love is Not Enough, which was a Hallmark movie of the week. Starring Winona Ryder and Barry Pepper. I know the producer and he shared with me that the Lois Wilson Story was the lowest rated Hallmark film of that year.

Famously sober, and also from Philadelphia like myself, Bradley Cooper starred in 2011’s Limitless. The film was about a drug that made whoever took it into a genius perhaps the way Wall Street brokers feel when they do cocaine. Or like the way Coke made me feel Every Single day for 13 years. Though I only thought of myself as a Coke Addict for the 13th year. That’s because for 12 years every time I snorted line or smeared it on my gums I did it because I wanted to. It was only in that 13th year that I would tell myself I wasn’t gonna get high that day, and I did anyway, I could not JUST SAY NO. I did end up quitting coke cold turkey, but was snorting ecstasy within a week.

Another great documentary we’ve show is – American Addict. Made by Dr. Gregory Smith … who exposes some of the underbelly of some pharmaceutical companies. And explains how Americans have been brainwashed into thinking there a pill for every ailment or uncomfortable feeling.

Acts of Worship is a story of addiction, friendship, loss and redemption between a homeless addict and a successful photographer, in lower Manhattan. Here’s what one reviewer said: “I can’t think of another film about addiction with a more accurate view from the inside.” The New York Times said, “it’s a mercilessly gritty portrait … scenes that are so real they hurt.” Unfortunately not too many people saw it.

Who here has seen the film, Thanks For Sharing? It is very funny romantic comedy starring Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim Robbins and Pink. But for some reason it did really poorly at the box office, I wonder if it because it is one of the most accurate depictions of the 12-step fellowship I have ever seen. Tim Robbins plays the bleeding deacon, Pink has five years and Josh Gad plays the newcomer. It seems like people outside our universe are not that interested in the recovery movement, which means so much to so many of us.

We all want to do something about the opioid crisis, we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t, but what is there really to do? I am trying to do my part, but why film?

I have seen light bulbs go on over people’s heads in the audience where I know that person had re-dedicated themselves to staying sober either because they saw a worse bottom on the screen or a message of hope. I see audiences fascinated with filmmakers who share how and why they made the films they did.

So I use film and information to try and help, and I’ve also driven quite a few people to rehab.

Sometimes I wonder, Where is God in all of this? Do families come together in faith and share the grief, or do they blame each other and the victim for all eternity. Does the shock, anger and sadness bring family members closer to the Almighty? Or do they lose faith forever? I guess it will always rain on the just and the unjust.