Last week, I wrote about Matthew Perry’s revelations about his experience with addiction, detailed in his memoir, Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing, to be released November 1. In the pre-release interviews with media outlets, he’s remained tight-lipped about a few things, like how long he’s been sober. But in a recent interview with The New York Times, he opened up a bit more, revealing that he’s been sober since early 2021, right before the highly-anticipated Friends reunion special. He also opened up about the total cost of his journey to sobriety. "I've probably spent $9 million or something trying to get sober."
As much as I’d love to leave my last piece on Matthew Perry as this neatly wrapped homage to my brother, Anthony, and everyone else affected by addiction and the opioid crisis, I also realize how critical the discussion about money is when it comes to addiction and recovery. And how celebrities – and rich people in general – are much better equipped to face the long road to sobriety than everyday people like my brother.
According to help.org, the cost of rehab can be anywhere between $3,000 and $100,000, depending on your needs and your insurance (if applicable). There are two main types of treatment, inpatient and outpatient. Inpatient treatment is typically more expensive, but more effective for people experiencing severe addictions. Outpatient treatment can be more cost-effective but is more suited for those with mild to moderate addictions. Then, there’s luxury rehab. Yes, luxury rehab.
With a price tag ranging between $30,000 and $100,000 for a one month stay, I imagine this is the place we’d find stars like Matthew Perry and the several others who have documented their issues with addiction – and those that haven’t gone on the record yet. Luxury rehab features amenities like private suites, massage therapy, recreation including horseback riding and tennis, gourmet dining, meditation and yoga classes. The site help.org quite literally reads, “The longer you can afford to spend in rehab, the better your chance for a successful outcome.”
I’m a huge proponent of holistic health, but the “luxury” of rehab reserved only for those who can afford it paints a very clear picture and that is the rigid dichotomy between the addictions of celebrities and the addictions of everyday people. It makes me wonder if they’re fighting the same disease. Despite the sheer cost of it all, Matthew describes going to rehab 15 times, calling rehabilitation a key to staying sober. So what does that mean for people who can’t afford to go?
Inability to afford rehab is cited as the number one reason addicts who need and want help didn’t receive treatment at a facility by help.org. That is soul crushing. Anyone who has endured addiction or has watched a loved one go through it can testify to the difficulty of getting someone to the point that they actually want help. To have them make that realization, only to see just how far out of reach the cost of treatment is, brings about a sense of hopelessness that could – and often does - drive them right back to using.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what kept Matthew from going right back to using. By all accounts, after his stint in hospital at age 49, it appeared he wouldn’t survive after suffering a gastrointestinal perforation when his colon burst from opioid overuse. This led to his two-weeks long coma, a five month stay in hospital, and having to use a colostomy bag for nine months.
"The doctors told my family that I had a two percent chance to live," he told PEOPLE. "I was put on a thing called an ECMO machine, which does all the breathing for your heart and your lungs. And that's called a Hail Mary. No one survives that."
But Matthew did survive that. And according to him, it wasn’t the millions he had spent. It wasn’t getting a second chance at life. It was his therapist’s urge to think about having to be a lifelong colostomy bag user whenever he felt compelled to use OxyContin.
"My therapist said, 'The next time you think about taking Oxycontin, just think about having a colostomy bag for the rest of your life. And a little window opened and I crawled through it and I no longer want Oxycontin anymore," he said during his interview with PEOPLE.
Imagine that. His therapist asked him to think about a life where he, like more than half a million Americans living with colostomy bags, would have to use a life-preserving medical response to the perforation in his colon. And in addition to all the tools and resources he acquired during his recovery journey, that was enough to help him pivot.
I still have so much respect for Matthew Perry and the story he told. And I still think celebrity narratives about addiction help validate the experiences of addicts and their loved ones – and maybe even help us all to make as much sense as we can of the experience. But two things can be true at the same time. These narratives also highlight the discouraging differences between those with money and those who don’t have money in accessing treatment. And they illustrate the exclusivity, ableism and sheer privilege that comes with being able to begin the long journey to recovery, let alone at a luxury facility.