Pubdate: Tue, 23 Dec 2008
Source: Gainesville Sun, The (FL)
Copyright: 2008 The New York Times Company
Author: Benedict Carey


ROSEBURG, Ore. - Their first love might be the rum or vodka or gin 
and juice that is going around the bonfire. Or maybe the smoke, the 
potent marijuana that grows in the misted hills here like moss on a wet stone.

But it hardly matters. Here as elsewhere in the country, some users 
start early, fall fast and in their reckless prime can swallow, 
snort, inject or smoke anything available, from crystal meth to 
prescription pills to heroin and ecstasy. And treatment, if they get 
it at all, can seem like a joke.

"After the first couple of times I went through, they basically told 
me that there was nothing they could do," said Angella, a 17-year-old 
from the central Oregon city of Bend, who by freshman year in high 
school was drinking hard liquor every day, smoking pot and sampling a 
variety of harder drugs. "They were like, 'Uh, I don't think so.' "

She tried residential programs twice, living away from home for three 
months each time. In those, she learned how dangerous her habit was, 
how much pain it was causing others in her life. She worked on 
strengthening her relationship with her grandparents, with whom she 
lived. For two months or so afterward she stayed clean.

"Then I went right back," Angella said in an interview. "After a 
while, you know, you just start missing your friends."

Every year, state and federal governments spend more than $15 
billion, and insurers at least $5 billion more, on substance-abuse 
treatment services for some four million people. That amount may soon 
increase sharply: last year, Congress passed the mental health parity 
law, which for the first time includes addiction treatment under a 
federal law requiring that insurers cover mental and physical 
ailments at equal levels.

Many clinics across the county have waiting lists, and researchers 
estimate that some 20 million Americans who could benefit from 
treatment do not get it.

Yet very few rehabilitation programs have the evidence to show that 
they are effective. The resort-and-spa private clinics generally do 
not allow outside researchers to verify their published success 
rates. The publicly supported programs spend their scarce resources 
on patient care, not costly studies.

And the field has no standard guidelines. Each program has its own 
philosophy; so, for that matter, do individual counselors. No one 
knows which approach is best for which patient, because these 
programs rarely if ever track clients closely after they graduate. 
Even Alcoholics Anonymous, the best known of all the substance-abuse 
programs, does not publish data on its participants' success rate.

"What we have in this country is a washing-machine model of addiction 
treatment," said A. Thomas McClellan, chief executive of the 
nonprofit Treatment Research Institute, based in Philadelphia. "You 
go to Shady Acres for 30 days, or to some clinic for 60 visits or 60 
doses, whatever it is. And then you're discharged and everyone's 
crying and hugging and feeling proud - and you're supposed to be cured."

He added: "It doesn't really matter if you're a movie star going to 
some resort by the sea or a homeless person. The system doesn't work 
well for what for many people is a chronic, recurring problem."

In recent years state governments, which cover most of the bill for 
addiction services, have become increasingly concerned, and some, 
including Delaware, North Carolina, and Oregon, have sought ways to 
make the programs more accountable. The experience of Oregon, which 
has taken the most direct and aggressive action, illustrates both the 
promise and perils of trying to inject science into addiction treatment.

Evidence-Based Treatments

In 2003 the Oregon Legislature mandated that rehabilitation programs 
receiving state funds use evidence-based practices - techniques that 
have proved effective in studies. The law, phased in over several 
years, was aimed at improving services so that addicts like Angella 
would not be doomed to a lifetime of rehab, repeating the same kinds 
of counseling that had failed them in the past - or landing in worse trouble.

"You can get through a lot of programs just by faking it," said 
Jennifer Hatton, 25, of Myrtle Creek, Ore., a longtime drinker and 
drug user who quit two years ago, but only after going to jail and 
facing the prospect of losing her children. "That's what did it for 
me - my kids - and I wish it didn't have to come to that."

When practiced faithfully, evidence-based therapies give users their 
best chance to break a habit. Among the therapies are prescription 
drugs like naltrexone, for alcohol dependence, and buprenorphine, for 
addiction to narcotics, which studies find can help people kick their habits.

Another is called the motivational interview, a method intended to 
harden clients' commitment upon entering treatment. In M.I., as it is 
known, the counselor, through skilled questioning, has the addict 
explain why he or she has a problem, and why it is important to quit, 
and set goals. Studies find that when clients mark their path in this 
way - instead of hearing the lecture from a counselor, as in many 
traditional programs - they stay in treatment longer.

Psychotherapy techniques in which people learn to expect and tolerate 
restless or low moods are also on the list. So is cognitive behavior 
therapy, in which addicts learn to question assumptions that 
reinforce their habits (like "I'll never make friends who don't do 
drugs") and to engage their nondrug activities and creative interests.

For Angella, this kind of counseling made a difference. She spent 
several months in a program run by Adapt, an addiction treatment 
center here in Roseburg, a small city about 175 miles south of Portland.

In treatment, she said, she learned how to "just be with, and feel" 
bad moods without turning to drink or drugs; and to throw herself 
into creative projects like collage and painting. The program has 
helped her reconnect with her father and to enroll in college 
beginning in January.

"I want to be a teacher, and someone at the program is advising me on 
that," she said in an interview. "That's the plan, to just move out 
and away from my old life."

A friend of hers in the program, Alex, a 16-year-old from Roseburg, 
said that the therapy helped him monitor his own emotional ups and 
downs, without being swept away by them. The counselors "are always 
asking about our stress level, our anger, so you become more aware 
and have a better idea what to do with it," he said.

Almost 54 percent of Oregon's $94 million budget for addiction 
treatment services now goes to programs that deploy evidence-based 
techniques, according to a state report completed last month. The 
estimated rate before the mandate was 25 to 30 percent. The state has 
not yet analyzed the impact of this change on clients.

"Before the mandate, most programs had some evidence-based practices, 
and since then there has been a lot more interest and awareness of 
them," said Traci Rieckmann, a public health researcher at Oregon 
Health and Science University, who is following the policy 
implementation with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 
and the National Institutes of Health.

Culture Clash

Yet interest and awareness may not translate into good practice, and 
Dr. Rieckmann says it is not at all clear how many rehabilitation 
programs claiming to use evidence-based techniques actually do so 
faithfully. About 400 programs receive state money, and most of them 
are small, rural outfits that are already stretched to provide 
counseling, to say nothing of paying for extensive training.

"You're talking about therapies, like cognitive behavior therapy, 
that take time to learn," said John Gardin, the behavioral health and 
research director at Adapt in Roseburg, who travels the country to 
teach the skills. "Most places don't have a person like me to do that 
training, so they're getting two to three days of training, if that; 
and that's just not enough time to get it."

In studies looking at hundreds of programs nationwide, researchers 
have found a similar gap between what programs may want to do and 
what they're able to do. "For instance, most programs don't have an 
M.D. on staff," said Aaron Johnson, a sociologist at the University 
of Georgia who has led many of the studies. "Without that, of course, 
you can't prescribe any medications."

Tim Hartnett, the executive director of a Portland treatment program 
called CODA Inc., which does its own research on patient outcomes, 
said that the mandate had raised the level of conversation statewide, 
but that true reform would mean "an integrated system that tracks 
clients as they move from residential to outpatient treatment, and 
that defines clear targets" for what a person should expect from each 
kind of program.

"Our goal at CODA is to create a system of care that uses 
evidence-based practices at just the right dose and just the right 
time," Mr. Hartnett said. "As with many chronic diseases, figuring 
out dosage and timing are critical."

For some addicts, a standard program may not help at all, according 
to Anne Fletcher, who for her book "Sober For Good" interviewed 222 
men and women who had been clean for at least five years. "A lot of 
these people overcame an alcohol problem on their own, or with the 
help of an individual therapist," Ms. Fletcher said.

To complicate matters in Oregon, the state mandate has stirred a kind 
of culture clash between those who want reform - academic 
researchers, state officials - and veteran counselors working in the 
trenches, many of whom have beaten addictions of their own and do not 
appreciate outsiders telling them how to do their jobs.

"I'm a counselor, and I'd be defensive, too: 'What do you mean, all 
this stuff I've been doing my entire life is wrong?' " said Brian 
Serna, director of outpatient services at Adapt, who has traveled the 
state to monitor the use of scientific practices. "So the challenge 
is to build a bridge between what the science says is effective and 
what people are already doing."

One way to do that, some experts now believe, is to combine 
evidence-based practice with "practice-based evidence" - the results 
that programs and counselors themselves can document, based on their 
own work. In 2001 the Delaware Division of Substance Abuse and Mental 
Health began giving treatment programs incentives, or bonuses, if 
they met certain benchmarks. The clinics could earn a bonus of up to 
5 percent, for instance, if they kept a high percentage of addicts 
coming in at least weekly and ensured that those clients met their 
own goals, as measured both by clean urine tests and how well they 
functioned in everyday life, in school, at work, at home.

By 2006, the state's rehabilitation programs were operating at 95 
percent capacity, up from 50 percent in 2001; and 70 percent of 
patients were attending regular treatment sessions, up from 53 
percent, according to an analysis of the policy published last summer 
in the journal Health Policy.

"We basically gave them a list of evidence-based practices and told 
them to pick the ones they wanted to use," said Jack Kemp, former 
director of substance abuse services for Delaware, in an interview. 
"It was up to them to decide what to use."

For those who are trying not to use, it doesn't much matter how rehab 
services are improved - only that it happens in time. "Honestly, you 
just don't care how or why something works for you," said Ms. Hatton, 
the 25-year-old from Myrtle Creek, Ore. "Just that it does." 
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