If you have ever seen the outspoken billionaire Sheldon Adelson, you couldn’t have missed Dr. Miriam Adelson, the woman always at his side, and vice versa. If you don’t happen to see her unique blonde head of hair and her big, warm smile, it is likely because she is busy devoting her time to philanthropy. Dr. Miriam Adelson, a physician, is seriously dedicated to supporting scientific research towards finding a cure for cancer and Alzheimer’s. She is also the founder and owner of the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Clinic for Drug Abuse Treatment & Research in Las Vegas and Israel. These centers focus on treating people with addictions to Heroin and sometimes Cocaine, diseases that she fights with all her heart.
Tsipi: Philip Seymour Hoffman was 22 years old when he first checked himself into a drug rehabilitation center because he said, “there are things I want to do.” Is this a common attitude among actors /celebrities or do they usually react differently when faced with rehabilitation?
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Dr. Adelson: I am not a specialist on the behavior of celebrities. I am not involved in that community. However, I understand that celebrities don’t want to be seen among the other patients who come to the clinics. There is a stigma that often prevents them from coming to a clinic for treatments. Therefore I would be willing to be as flexible as possible to arrange for each of them a convenient, confidential plan of treatment.
Tsipi: Is this an open invitation for celebrities that have a heroin addiction to come for treatment with you?
Dr. Adelson: My goal is to prevent as many deaths as possible from drug overdose as I can. I was so frustrated after the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, this incredible movie star that everyone liked so much, and I said to myself, “My God! I am helping the poor and the homeless. Why can’t I also do something for the celebrities?” Maybe some of their agents will call me and I can educate them. My clinic is not-for-profit. I am not here to make money; I am here to save lives. Everything here is confidential. So maybe I can consult them and guide them to a safe place where they can still be great, functional movie stars and survive and all of us can continue to be inspired by their talent.
Tsipi: Where did your enthusiasm for this field of medicine come from? Why methadone treatments and drug rehabilitation? Why not heart diseases or another medical field?
Dr. Adelson: I started as a specialist in Internal Medicine. Then I moved to the Emergency Room to be Chief Internist there. We did a lot of heart attack resuscitations, among other things. It was energetic and exciting. In the emergency room, you can save five to ten lives in one day, maybe more. I became connected to drug addiction while working with women who had become prostitutes to support their addiction. I began to wonder, “How does a woman from a good family begin to sell her body?” It always bothered me. There is something more than bad behavior there. I got my tenure in the hospital and I decided to do a subspecialty at Rockefeller University Hospital with Dr. Mary Jeanne Kreek, head of the laboratory for addictive diseases. My research subject was drug addiction. Rockefeller University gave me all my answers. When people start using heroin and become addicted, the brain changes irreversibly. We have opiate receptors in our brains, and when they are exposed over and over to this outside source of opiates, the receptors change. This is more than just bad behavior; the changes are physiological. The pain that they are feeling withdrawing from the drug causes them to do unthinkable things to get the drug so that they don’t get sick.
I went to a drug addiction clinic in New York, examined patients, and drew blood from them for my research. I learned the atmosphere. I learned that drug addicts in New York undergoing methadone programs during the HIV epidemic were almost unaffected by HIV. Those who were on the street were infected. Which means those in the program didn’t go back to injecting, which prevented them from contracting HIV. I remember a patient of mine in that clinic insisted that he wanted to get off methadone. He was married with two kids. We said, “No, no, no! Don’t leave the treatment. Don’t do it.” But he insisted. After three years, he came back with HIV. He came back because he shared needles. So again and again you see proof. You take methadone every day or you get HIV. Stigma shmigma. You know? Come on! In everything, including medicine, you maintain a balance. An addict will have a high chance of contracting HIV or Hepatitis C, becoming a criminal, losing his career. Or he can take methadone every day, go to work, be a celebrity, be a teacher, or whatever he wants to be.
Tsipi: Your treatment saves more than just one person. Would you say it saves the family?
Dr. Adelson: A family? It saves the whole community! An addict’s son might become a criminal because he is wandering the street and doesn’t have a father to guide him. He may force his wife to become a prostitute to get money for drugs. It is total chaos. Cars are stolen during his addiction. He is a burden to the community; he breaks into houses, and is eventually hospitalized because he has Hepatitis B and C. Who knows, maybe he needs a liver transplant. Alternatively, there is the very cheap method of methadone, in comparison to all the risk factors involved with addiction.
Tsipi: Can you give me a glimpse into your family’s past?
Dr. Adelson: Most of my family was murdered by Hitler. [She shows a photograph] Here is the only photograph I have of all of them together. My grandmother, I am named after her, Miriam. Do I look like her? In my home, I have a large painting – a picture – of a Jewish boy standing with fire surrounding him with his hands raised and a yellow star pinned on his coat. It reminds me every day that evil forces exist, at the same time if you continue to do beautiful things in life, you will overcome and overpower evil. I feel blessed that I can help people in need in our society.
Tsipi: Can you tell us how you met your husband? You often call him Dr. Sheldon because of his knowledge in your field.
Dr. Adelson: Two childhood friends asked me if they could give my phone number to a friend of theirs who was recently divorced and told them he was now available. Moreover, he was very interesting and had a lot of knowledge about addiction. I said yes. We spent many hours talking on the phone every day before we met. We first became friends over the phone. I would strongly recommend other women to do the same – before the first date. It gives you a good idea about the person on the other end of the line. In a few meetings we started feeling very close to each other and one hundred days later we were engaged.
Tsipi: The decision to help in the Far East resulted from your husband’s work building hotels there. People are curious to know, how do you maintain this special partnership between you and your husband? What is your secret?
Dr. Adelson: The secret is the power of love. It is strong. Sheldon is my best friend. He is everything for me. I think I am everything to him. We make decisions together. Whenever he recommends a donation, I always agree. Whenever I recommend, he always agrees. When I go to a medical conference, he joins me. When he goes to business meetings in the Far East, I go with him. We are together most of the time. We are soul mates.
Tsipi: Many people change when they get to be very successful, influential, or world famous personalities. Did you change from the Dr. Ochshorn you were almost 23 years ago?
Dr. Adelson: As a physician, I know where I came from and where I’ll return to… I feel content and don’t need anything to fill my ego. My ego is fine.
Tsipi: You have done so much in your life and experienced so much. Is there something else still out there that is a dream for you that you still hope for and want to accomplish?
Dr. Adelson: I want to be in the weddings of my two teenage kids, and maybe to hold their babies. They are teenagers, but I am not young anymore. Someday I dream to be able to hold my grandchildren from each child. I have already held the grandchildren from my two daughters.
Tsipi: What about in terms of the work you do?
Dr. Adelson: My dream is that we will find some solutions for cocaine addiction, and to identify the genetics of opiate addiction and other addictions. With the identification of the multiple genes involved, we would be able to create vaccines or treatment. Our medical research foundation is also doing a lot of research in the field of cancer and neurology. We support maybe 200 scientists all over the world in many universities that are working in collaboration with one another, and my hope is that my group will also find a solution to some neurological diseases. We hope to find solutions for Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, and Lou Gehrig’s disease. Maybe we will find a way to cure or to improve treatment for ovarian and pancreatic cancer – the most difficult cancers. So that is my dream: that our foundation, with all our investments in many scientists, will benefit the world.