From the St. Louis Post Dispatch
By Sylvester Brown Jr.

Percy Menzies came to America 25 years ago to save a life. Doctors in India told him and his wife that their infant son, Patrick, would die within months from a genetic brain disorder. The couple were urged to let their child go without a fight.

“That was unacceptable,” Menzies said.

The Menzies decided to immigrate to the United States. They found help and compassionate doctors here. Patrick is now 27 years old. Since leaving India, the Menzieses have adopted three more sick or abandoned children from their country.

Menzies contacted me about a month ago. He read my column about smoking and wanted to talk about addictions. He’s promoting a product that he says helps people successfully kick substance abuse. The product is called Naltrexone. As Menzies explains it, the drug prevents addicts from getting a buzz from substances.

Naltrexone, which has won FDA approval for treatment of drug and alcohol abuse, maybe should be the new wave of treatment. But it’s not – at least not yet. The drug doesn’t rely on what Menzies describes as the “Coke and a smile” approach. “One of the major problems we face in the field of treatment is the over-reliance on addiction substitution, substituting one addiction for a lesser one” – for instance, having patients use methadone, a synthetic opiate that is only somewhat less addictive than heroin.

Menzies serves as president of the St. Louis-based Assisted Recovery Centers of America (ARCA), a treatment center for alcohol and drug-use disorders. ARCA combines medications with behavioral modification programs for addicts. Naltrexone is the center’s product of choice for treating addictions. Still, it’s not an easy fix. Patients must be monitored consistently to get the best results.

I still don’t understand the relationship between smoking and Naltrexone, but I was intrigued with Menzies’ passion about the drug’s potential. I also noticed a pattern – the guy wants to help people. He and his wife have adopted and raised children from India. The couple now dedicate a significant portion of their time helping other families adopt children from Third World countries. Menzies, 55, is retired, yet he spends his time telling people about a “wonder drug” for the treatment of substance abuse.

Menzies seemed surprised when asked where his motivation comes from. “It’s because of my Jesuit training in India,” he replied somewhat shyly.

“The priests are most responsible for what I am today. We worked in leprosy hospitals and slums. What good is a $90 bottle of wine and expensive things? What’s most rewarding is to see people’s lives change.”

Julie McCabe is one of those whose life has been changed. She’s been clean for eight months after being addicted for 15 years. It started with prescription pills then grew to a heroin addiction. She used methadone for nine years to help kick the heroin habit. But methadone is also addictive. For the last eight months, she says, she has been able to get off that drug by using Naltrexone. Now, for the first time in nine years, she has a job. McCabe works as a receptionist at ARCA. She spends her days helping other addicts.

“I relate to everyone of our clients, especially those with opiate troubles,” said Julie. “It’s good for me. I hope it’s good for them to know that someone here has been through what they’re going through.”

Mike, 40, may be going to jail in a couple of days. He’s been stopped one too many times for DWIs. For the last few months, he’s had an electronic band attached to his ankle. Every night he connects to a telephone modem and sends data to ARCA detailing what substances have entered his body. Mike, who has been drinking steadily for 23 years, has also benefited from Menzies’ program. He’s been sober for 51 days and counting. He’s hoping the judge will cut him some slack based on his progress.

Menzies is proud of Mike’s and Julie’s recovery and that of countless others who have benefited from ARCA’s program. He’s equally excited about the potential benefit of Naltrexone once it’s more widely accepted.

“This is my life’s calling,” Menzies said. “When I die, I want the word ‘Naltrexone’ on my tombstone. I want it to say that I did something to help.”