Saturday, January 24, 2009

Well said, in Washington

The Bush years, by wide consensus, were a dismal era for science.  But by a strange paradox, some bright stars emerged in what is normally a dismal field under any administration: addiction science.  

One is the brilliant Nora Volkow, who brings a rare mix of research experience, clear thinking, and leadership ability to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).  

Another is Mark Willenbring, Director of the Division of Treatment and Recovery Research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).  In a letter to the current New Yorker (the one with the cartoon of Obama as George Washington on the cover), Willenbring precisely skewers a piece that this normally astute mag published in its December 1 issue.  The article, titled "Special Treatment," by Amanda Fortini, featured a Los Angeles area deluxe treatment facility.  

After a string of well-worn 12-step platitudes about addiction and the difficulties of recovery, the owners of the facility claimed that in essence treatment could make no difference, everything depended on the addicted person's motivation.  So why bill the client for clinical services on top of the normal cost of luxury room and board? 

Willenbring's letter goes directly for the jugular.  He writes that the piece:
... shows the irony that paying more does not guarantee access to the most current therapies... The program that Fortini describes appears to base its services on a treatment model that is more than thirty years old .... Although clients may or may not receive some benefit, they are vulnerable to unnecessary relapse risk if more contemporary treatments are not also made available.  For example, research funded by the National Institutes of Health has identified several medications that reduce relapse in early recovery from alcohol dependence.  Newer behavioral approaches, such as cognitive-behavior therapy and motivational interviewing, also increase recovery and provide alternatives to the traditional Twelve Step approach (which in updated form is also effective).  This menu of services makes possible truly individualized treament and  increases client choice and engagement, but only if people have access to it.
The treatment program Fortini described in her article was so clinically clueless and bereft of ideas that the piece might have been a subliminal parody.  It isn't often that I get to cheer somebody in Washington for saying the right stuff.  Could this be the beginning of a change we can believe in?  


speedy said...

i agree almost entirely with the willenring critique, but found myself thrown a bit by his language about 12 step treatment "in an updated" form being form.

the only update to the 12 steps since they were penned by bill wilson in 1939 was that the word "suggested" was removed from the 'window shade' step descriptions displayed at meetings.

what exactly is "updated" 12 step?

Joanna said...

I second Speedy's question - any insight into what the "updated twelve steps" is would be welcome.