Addiction Management Blog

Posts Tagged ‘public policy’

The College on Problems of Drug Dependence 2013 – my update

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

For the past half-dozen years, I have been attending The College on Problems of Drug Dependence, better known as CPDD. The conference has been in existence since 1929 and this year is celebrating 75 years! It is the longest running conference on drug addiction problems in the US and is attended by the brightest minds in the field from all over the world (it even has its own blog). This year it was held in San Diego and included poster sessions, oral presentations, and plenty of networking. Usually I go it alone, but this year decided to drag my family along to make up for the year I brought them to the same conference in Reno where, ironically, gambling, drinking and smoking permeated the hotel and conference (yuck!).

There was a lot of great stuff this year as usual, so I thought I would highlight just a few things that really caught my attention.

  • traumafiveAdverse childhood experiences predict later substance abuse and addiction. We have known for a long time that 80-90 percent of those who go down the path of addiction start their journey early in life – during teenage-age years – most often as an adaptive response to coping with one or more adverse childhood experiences. I have written about the ACE study on this site, but what is new are studies that continue to evolve these findings in more detail, and help us really understand just how complex, pervasive, and critical it is to evaluate and treat underlying traumas in those who struggle with addiction. Current stats on abuse and neglect are frightening, and sadly addiction is not the only outcome of these cases. The British Journal of Psychiatry recently published a paper linking childhood adversity to all classes of mental health disorders. At the conference Cathy Spatz Widom presented some of her work that has involved following 1,575 kids from childhood through adulthood. This amazing study included 908 substantiated cases of childhood abuse and neglect processed by the courts from 1967 through 1971, and then matched this group with a control group of 667 children with no official record of abuse/neglect. The results from interviews over multiple decades provides strong evidence that early life experiences make a difference in the trajectories of our lives. Bottom line for those who struggle with addiction: intervention must involve addressing unresolved issues from the past that perpetuate addictive behavior.
  • Legalization of marijuana. I have not written about this topic on this site before, largely because I continue to struggle with exactly how I feel about it. While it is now legal in two states (Colorado and Washington) many other states are moving to legalize recreational use as well. On many fronts I agree that legalization makes sense, as the drug war has been a miserable failure. At the same time, Nora Volkow, the Director of NIDA, in cannabisher keynote address pointed out that marijuana use among teens is at an all-time high, while research findings are absolutely clear about the dangers of THC in young developing brains. This year the public policy forum was dedicated to this topic, and two great speakers from the RAND Drug Policy Research Center – Beau Kilmer and Rosalie Pacula – provided a lot of food for thought. Beau reviewed his seven P’s and Rosalie addressed the four primary public health goals: 1) prevent youth access, 2) prevent drugged driving, 3) regulate product content and form (potency), and 4) minimize concurrent use with alcohol. The “how” of accomplishing these goals is beyond this post, but if you dig into the RAND site you will find a recent publication that provides all the details.
  • Abuse of prescription drugs. If the 80′s were about cocaine, the 90′s about meth, we are now deeply entrenched in a time where “the” object of addiction are prescription drugs. In the past decade there has been a five-fold increase in treatment admissions for abuse of opioids, and overdose deaths related to pills have tripled in the past two decades. In some states more people die of pill overdoses than motor vehicle accidents. It is a problem that has gained national attention by many government agencies (and non-government groups), and was a hot topic this year at CPDD. Much of the focus was on abuse-deterrent formulations, which studies have shown have reduced abuse and diversion. This is a good thing, but at the same time such formulations are not necessarily reducing the number of people who struggle with abuse/addiction – they are just pushing them in another direction to other more easily abusable products or illicit drugs (what we call the “balloon effect”). The key point goes back to my first bullet point. We need to invest far more resources into prevention and early intervention since this is really the origin of the problem for most who struggle.
  • psilocybinPsilocybin and quantum change. Of all the cool things I learned this year, the one that surprised me the most was a workshop focused on the treatment benefits of psilocybin, a hallucinogenic compound from mushrooms that operates mostly on 5-HT-2a/c serotonin receptors. The session, led by Roland Griffiths and Herb Kleber, reviewed studies where psilocybin produced some remarkable mystical experiences for participants that rated among the most important events in their life! Here is a video clip describing one of the studies. The hope for those who struggle with addiction is that psilocybin may be an accelerated way to induce spiritual experiences that result in profound and lasting behavioral changes. The compound, when used appropriately in controlled conditions, appears to be non-physically toxic and virtually non-addictive. While the early findings are intriguing, I am not so sure we will see it on the list of evidence-based practices any time soon.

If you want to read more about the conference, check out the CPDD Blog.

Lastly, I know many of you won’t believe this, but CPDD has workshops that go from 8pm until 10pm at night, even Sunday – on Father’s Day! My wife never believed me until she saw it for herself. This is a dedicated group of people! So, after one of these very long evenings, I ventured out into the evening and did a little picture taking. Here are two of my favorites:

SD-5sd-1-2

 

Addiction & Homelessness, Part II

Monday, April 29th, 2013

books-stackIt was early summer and I was deep into my counseling internship at the behavioral health clinic. I was lucky enough to have a giant corner office with many windows overlooking downtown Portland – room enough to conduct both my individual sessions and run groups. It was so big that I decided to bring in two of my own bookcases to fill out the space. Lucky for me, a relative who happened to be a retired psychologist, had a ton of books to donate to my cause. I figured my clients would walk into the room and see all those counseling-related books and be less concerned that I was an intern. I just hoped they didn’t ask me whether I had read them all because then I would have to fess up.

I chose a late night to get the books into my office. The clinic had a hand-truck to make life easier, but it was still a lot of boxes to move. As I was unloading books from my car, a young man in his early thirties came strolling up and casually asked me for $25. While I have been asked for money many times, never has someone on the street asked me for $25! I was taken aback, but even more, just really curious. I told him I would consider his request if he explained to me exactly why he needed the money. Without knowing at all what I did for a living, he said, “I have been in drug treatment for the past month…a couple of days ago, was kicked out and have nowhere to go… I’m homeless and need the money to buy a bus ticket to San Francisco where my parents live.”

Made sense to me. “Why did you get kicked out of drug treatment?” I asked.

The question made him squirm. He looked down at the pavement and said nothing. I could sense he felt shame. Then in a soft voice he said flatly, “I was caught on my bed with another man.”

I replied non-judgmentally that it seemed like a dumb reason to get kicked out of treatment, and that I would help him. I gave him my business card from the clinic and said to come see me the next morning when I could access funds to help him. Because he had nowhere to sleep I pointed him in the direction of a nearby shelter. The next morning when I stumbled tiredly into the clinic, he was sitting in the lobby waiting for me. It was a busy day. I had two evaluations back-to-back and the first client was also in the waiting room. I had him come back to my office where we chatted briefly about the money. I said I would make some calls, fill out some paperwork, and we could reconvene in my office around 11am to finalize things. He thanked me for my efforts and said he would be back then.

But he never returned.

preventing-heroin-overdose

Around 3pm that afternoon I got a call from the county coroner. He had a body and the only item found on it was my business card. The man had overdosed just blocks from my office. My heart sank and my mind raced. What had gone wrong? How could this have happened? What had I missed?

I will never fully know the answers to these questions, but I suspect that he overestimated the amount of drug his body could handle after being clean for a number of weeks while in treatment. I don’t think he was suicidal, but perhaps I missed something. To this day I regret not taking more time to assess his risks for relapse and overdose, but I didn’t know then what I know now.

For me, homelessness will always have a face.

 

Addiction treatment system 14 years later….still in need of an overhaul

Monday, July 9th, 2012

This past week The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University released a scathing report of our addiction treatment system: Addiction Medicine: Closing the Gap between Science and Practice. While the report says nothing new, it does a nice job of summarizing the fact that we have made little progress since the Institute of Medicine released Bridging the Gap Between Practice and Research: Forging Partnerships with Community-Based Drug and Alcohol Treatment on January 1, 1998. Here we are, 14 years later, and well, where are we now?

The new report points out these grim statistics:

  • 15.9% (40.3 million) of US age 12 and older struggle with addiction to alcohol and drugs (the number is higher if we factor in behavioral addictions such as gambling, sex, food, and online activities)
  • 31.7% (80.4 million) of US age 12 and older, while not addicted to anything, engages in risky use of substances that threaten health and safety (again, this number is higher if behavioral addictions are included)
  • 89.1% of those who meet criteria for addiction involving alcohol and drugs (not including nicotine) receive no treatment
  • Of those who do get treatment, about 50% come from criminal justice (only 5.7% are referred from primary care medicine)
  • Over 50% of those who go to treatment drop out
  • Addiction and risky substance use costs our society an estimated 468 billion each year

Not good! I will admit I was a bit depressed reading through the report, but not surprised. Addiction is a problem still very much misunderstood. Take for example this huge 573 page report, that constrains the definition of addiction to substances. How can we possibly make progress evolving our treatment system if we continue to narrowly define addiction. It is not just to substances that people become enslaved, but to food, gambling, sex, and many online behaviors. We now have neuroimaging studies providing empirical support that the brain is an equal opportunity organ that does not care what stimulates it, so long as dopamine provides a nice reward that keeps us coming back for more. In a great book on overeating, cleverly titled, The End of Overeating, by David Kessler (which I plan to blog about soon), he makes the point that animals will work almost as hard for food as they will for cocaine. So, back to my point. How can we make progress in this field when we continue to slice up the addiction problem, and fail to understand that it is not about the objects per se, but the relationships that a person has with these objects – all of these objects?

Accurately defining the problem would be a start, because we could then start building systems of care that leverage interventions for a wide range of chronic conditions, including addiction. But even agreement on a broad definition will likely not be enough. We need big system changes to make big progress. The CASA report provides a list of recommendations for improvement, including:

  • Increasing screening and referral in primary care medicine
  • Improve training on addiction in medical schools
  • Establish national accreditation standards for all addiction treatment facilities and programs
  • Educate non-health professionals about addiction, screening, and referral (dentists, teachers, legal staff, welfare, etc.)
  • Require adherence to use of evidence-based treatments
  • Expand addiction treatment workforce
  • Implement more national public health campaigns

It is a list, but hardly a gutsy one or even close to what needs to be done if we are to make big progress. What would my list look like? Here are my top four suggestions:

  • National Institute on Addiction (NIA): While integrating NIDA and NIAAA into one organization next year is progress, I would like to see an institute called the National Institute on Addiction that puts the emphasis on understanding the relationships people have with all objects of addiction, not just alcohol and drugs. While I know these agencies have invested resources in gambling and food, the money is scant compared to what is spent on substances. One of the primary goals of this organization would be to get all stakeholders (researchers, treatment providers, public) on the same page about how we should define addiction.
  • Leverage the Internet: Over 80 percent of the US population has access to high-speed internet, which means that we have the potential to reach the 90 percent who don’t get care. I am not saying this is easy, but there is a saying in marketing that you go where the customers are – and they are online.
  • Stop criminalizing addiction and treat those who do end up behind bars: The vast majority of folks behind bars suffer from addiction and most don’t get treatment. This needs to change. Because most will get out, why not use their time while in prison to treat their addiction, educate them, and provide them something to live for when they get out? I know, this costs too much money. See my last point.
  • Invest in families/prevention: Addiction is primarily a problem born out of adolescence. Most who develop addictions begin their journey before the age of 15. We need to devote significant resources to helping families flourish. We need programs that help people developmentally obtain the capacities they need for optimal mental health, for intimacy, parenting, and getting along with each other.

What would be on your list?

Investing in Addiction Treatment: Is it Worth the Cost?

Saturday, June 11th, 2011

I recently talked with a Huffington Post reporter about the Real Tab for Rehab: Inside the Addiction Treatment Biz. In our discussion, I pointed out that to a large extent we still have an addiction treatment system that provides short-term (acute) treatment for a long-term (chronic) problem (this key point did not make the article). In addition, the current system treats less than 10 percent of those who could benefit from some kind of intervention at a cost that will likely reach $34 billion by 2014, more than double the spending from 2005. In my opinion, a lot of money is being spent on helping a minority of those who struggle with addiction, and sadly being spent on expensive residential treatment stays that research indicates is not more effective than less expensive outpatient care. Bottom line, the billions being spent could be invested in those who struggle far more wisely.

Not too many years ago I was attending an addiction conference where a number of  treatment centers were advertising their services. I struck up a conversation with one of the marketing reps of a well-known residential program. She explained to me that because of the escalating cost of treatment, her team had developed a program that was only ten days in length, thus reducing the total treatment cost to about 15K while maintaining the effectiveness of a longer residential stay. As I always do in these situations, I asked her about proof that the program worked. She had a well-rehearsed answer, but like most treatment programs, no reliable and valid measures had been employed to measure outcomes. Even if some had been used, we know that 10 days hardly scratches the surface of what needs to happen to help someone with addiction.

Am I opposed to residential programs? Not at all. At times I believe these programs are life-savers and provide a strong foundation upon which to build a solid outpatient management plan. Many employ very skilled, compassionate, and hard-working counselors that know how to help patients stuck in addiction. Some charge reasonable rates for their services and avoid the “spa-like” add-ons that contribute nothing to long-term outcomes. What I am opposed to is marketing that feeds on the vulnerabilities of the populations that seek out their help. Many parents will go to the ends of the earth to help their addicted child and not think twice about mortgaging their home and draining their savings if someone tells them their program will save their kid. Even for those with money, the idea that one can “buy good outcomes” if just the right program is utilized is simply not true.

What can you do? You can spend your time understanding the nature of addiction, what science has to say about treatment interventions, and then spend your money wisely on what will result in the best possible long-term outcomes. What are some of the best financial investments in treatment? This slide from a recent presentation provides you a quick reference point for understanding how a number of treatment interventions rank in terms of scientific evidence. Notice that brief interventions, addiction medications (Campral, Revia), the Community Reinforcement Approach (CRA) and motivational enhancement interventions all rank very high in terms of evidence. Also notice what ranks far down the list: residential treatment, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and 12-step facilitation therapies, and general counseling. Note that it is not that these things cannot be useful in overcoming addiction, they can be very helpful. But when you compare their effectiveness through the lens of science to other options, and take into consideration the cost of each, it is clear we could be spending the billions of treatment dollars far more wisely.

The goal is to maximize the best possible intervention outcomes over many years (and for some a lifetime), not a few weeks or months. To do this, we need to employ the best interventions at the lowest cost. Combining free community resources, outpatient therapists, medications, self-help groups, and motivational incentives will give you the biggest bang for your buck.

Video, Video…and more Video!

Friday, April 15th, 2011

I learned recently that the number one online  activity is watching videos. My initial guess was email, but as I thought more about how we have grown-up watching television, and that the average American now spends more than five hours a day in front of a screen (TVs, computers and mobile devices, non-worked related), this outcome is hardly surprising. Email actually ranks third behind online banking. These statistics got me thinking about the most effective way to provide you science-based, easy-to-understand information about addiction and how to overcome it as a problem. Call me a little slow, but if watching videos is where all the action is online, then it seems to make sense that I go there as well. So I am excited to tell you that I have taken the leap and completely updated this site with lots of video! You will now find many short snippets, most just a few minutes long, on a wide range of addiction-related topics.

A few words about the clips. Last year I joined the Board of Shangri-La, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping Oregon’s most vulnerable populations with housing, employment, and a multitude of other needed services. What an amazing group of people! I can’t say enough great things about how they are making a difference in the lives of so many people at a time when so many are struggling. One reason for my involvement has been the increasing prevalence of addiction among the populations they serve. To help out, I presented some material about addiction to about 80 of their managers and staff, and in return, they taped it so I could use it on this site. Thanks again guys!

The first set of clips I am posting are primarily aimed at helping you better understand addiction. Here is one of them focused on addiction being about relationships.


 

Race to Nowhere

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Last week I watched the independent film Race to Nowhere that has won numerous awards for its strong messages about our broken educational system. Through interviews with students, parents, teachers, and others, the movie illustrates the dark side of being a kid in school. The race to nowhere for students is paved with an over-scheduling of activities, too much homework, too little sleep, and increased stress that is resulting in health problems, drug abuse, eating disorders, and suicide. What is even more troubling, is that for all the effort kids are putting into their school work and extracurricular activities, many are being churned out of our educational system lacking some of the most important qualities of a good education, including:  the ability to reflect deeply on topics, handle difficult emotions in the face of stress, and successfully engage in a wide range of healthy relationships. The film points the finger at numerous perpetrators, but in the end, fails to hit home that no one individual person or group is to blame, but rather it is the entire educational system that we must examine more carefully if we are to find the truth behind the worrisome outcomes.

When I think about the fact that over 80 percent of those who end up struggling with addiction begin their behaviors prior to the age of 15, this film frightens me even more. When did school become so competitive and stressful? Much of the over-scheduling of extra-curricular activities and hours of homework is in response to the demands, both perceived and real, associated with getting accepting into a college or university. What is sad is that the stress and pressure begin long before high school. My wife and I spent a couple of years tearing our hair out (the little I have left) trying to identify and enroll our son in the best possible elementary school. I put more time and effort into researching options, attending open houses, completing enrollment packets that included writing lengthy essays, than I ever did applying to graduate school! The process was absolutely crazy, and I know we were not alone. And now I know it was just the beginning.

Race to Nowhere illustrates painfully many of the current antecedents to addiction, and why we absolutely must reexamine our understanding of what education means and how we are going about educating our children. Failure to do so will only lead to a new generation of addicts.

 

Interview with Dr. Bruce Alexander

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Last year I dedicated a post to the work of Dr. Bruce Alexander, a psychologist from Canada who wrote a great book about the globalization of addiction. I am now extremely excited that my good friend Jari Chevalier, from Living Hero, recently completed an interview with him that you can access here. There are so many wonderful things in this podcast that I encourage you to take the time to hear what Dr. Alexander has to say about addiction and our society. Just to wet your appetite, here are a few things I found most insightful:

  • Addiction is a problem on the rise all over the world, and the factors perpetuating this problem are similar
  • Addiction is a window into our lives, culture, and the many problems we face day-to-day, and thus can teach us a lot about ourselves
  • Addiction is an adaptive response to the increasing breakdown in community (dislocation) and intimate social ties necessary for a good life
  • There is no formula or recipe for how best to intervene at the societal/community level and reverse the trend of addiction, but we should look to other countries that are further along in their efforts to curb addiction problems (Scandinavia, parts of South America)

Our government is currently very invested in promoting addiction as a brain disease, and the development of medications and psychosocial interventions that can treat the addicted brain. Unfortunately, however successful these interventions may be, they do not move our society in the direction of what addicts so badly need: human bonds, intimacy, and community. What I really get out of listening to Dr. Alexander is a message of Hope that we can change our ways. We can return to a way of life that is more grounded in relationships and not so consumed with materialism.

Also, check out Dr. Alexander’s website and  let me know what you think of the interview!

The end of Mr. Roger’s neighborhood

Friday, October 8th, 2010

As a young boy, I remember venturing out on summer evenings to play hide-and-seek with the other neighborhood kids. We made up teams, sought out secret hiding places, and took full advantage of the local woods that surrounded our corner of the world. Our parents all knew each other, and while we were expending our energy running around in the dark playing games, they were talking around tables and sharing food and drink. There was no internet, cell phones, or other multimedia distractions competing for time. Life was simpler, slower.

Now, more than thirty-five years later, I find myself married with a young son and challenged to provide him the same care-free childhood that I experienced. Despite living in a pleasant, middle-class neighborhood, it is rare to see large groups of kids playing together outside. There are no local woods within walking distance, and even if there were, most parents (myself included) would be hesitant to allow their children to play unsupervised. Although everyone I encounter on my daily dog walks is friendly, there is a lack of deep intimacy among neighbors. Some have never even met despite living within blocks of each other for decades.

The stark contrast between life today and just a few decades ago is surreal. The year I was born the handheld calculator was invented, and today, handheld devices are minicomputers capable of video-conferencing around the world. But for all the benefits technology affords, there is a cost that gets lost in the frenzy of Facebook, YouTube, and Amazon.

In 1985, researchers set out to understand the degree to which people have family and friends they can rely upon to discuss matters that are personal in nature. A national survey was done, and in 2004, the same group decided to repeat the study to determine how core discussion networks had changed over two decades. The results are frightening.

  • 25% of all Americans in 2004 reported they had no one in their life to discuss personal issues, compared to 10% in 1985
  • The modal (most frequent) number of discussion partners in 1985 was three, but in 2004 that number plummeted to zero
  • The average social network size has dropped from 3 confidants to 2
  • The number of people who reported that their spouse was the only person they trust with personal issues increased by almost 50 percent since 1985

These outcomes paint a sobering picture of the price we may be paying for our technology-enhanced life. The lead researcher has said, “we know these close ties are what people depend on in bad times. We’re not saying people are completely isolated. They may have 600 friends on Facebook.com and email 25 people a day, but they are not discussing matters that are personally important.”

Source: Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades, American Sociological Review, June 2006 71:353-375