Dr. Nora Volkow appeared on Good Morning America to discuss Chris Cornell’s death. She is currently the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. Note that Volkow never treated Cornell.
“[Vicky Cornell] described it, she says when her husband was not himself, he appeared confused at times, and he was forgetful. So when you’re intoxicated with drugs, you change your mental state. There are certain drugs actually that are particularly risky in that respect, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, that can generate confusion. They impair your cognition, they lead you to disinhibited acts. People may do impulsive behaviors that they wouldn’t have done had they not been under the influence of these drugs. This gets accentuated when you are combining a variety of drugs, like is the case in this instance. It is very likely had he not been under the influences of these drugs, he would have never done such an act that cost him his life.”
She also discussed how doctors need to be aware of patients with a history of addiction.
“Absolutely, it is their responsibility. In fact, doctors should ask their patients whether they have had a history of drug taking in their family or with themselves, because that’s going to determine what medications they can give them or not. If they give them medications that put them at higher risk, they have to be observed very, very carefully. The other issue is different from other diseases like diabetes or cancer, where you have it in your medical record, the information regarding you being treated for a substance abuse disorder is not in the medical record. So you as a doctor, if you don’t ask the question, you may not know your patient is addicted to drugs, and you may give them a drug that leads them to relapse.”
“It affects the family and it can destroy, but it’s also the family that can support the person that is addicted. The family has to be very alert of signs and symptoms of someone becoming addicted, and very importantly of signs and symptoms when someone has relapsed. Because it is difficult to face the fact, it is very painful to see someone addicted, it is very devastating. You deceive yourself into thinking that person is okay.”
“There’s a misunderstanding of what it does to your brain. People actually look at your actions on the basis of their own experiences. So I am able to control my intake of wine for example, but drugs affect the brain in ways that impair the capacity to actually exert control over your desires and emotions, leaving you to be very automatic and repetitive. It’s like driving a car without breaks, you may want to break all you want. People who are addicted many times realize they have to stop, but if you don’t have breaks how do you do it? It’s the equivalent.”