NCADD News Service

Advocacy Update

Advocacy Update
CARA (Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act)

Last week, the House of Representatives passed S. 524, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 by a vote of 407-5.  The bill is now headed to the Senate and then to President Obama for his signature.  It has been almost three years since the bill was first introduced.

CARA would expand prevention and education initiatives, strengthen prescription drug monitoring programs, expand availability of naloxone and provide necessary training to expand treatment for opioid and heroin addiction. 

For details on the bill, click here.

Final Rules on Medication-Assisted Treatment Published

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) issued final regulations intended to increase access to medication-assisted treatment with buprenorphine products in physician offices.  The new limit, effective August 5, 2016 when the regulation goes into effect, will be 275 patients.  There are several eligibility requirements for physicians including having a current waiver to treat up to 100 patients and maintaining that waiver for at least one year.  Other requirements include being Board-certified in addiction medicine or addiction psychiatry; practicing in a qualified practice; having no Medicare privilege revocations, and no violations of the Controlled Substances Act.  For full details, click here.

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There’s No Such Thing as a Disease

There’s No Such Thing as a Disease

Healthcare providers are charged with helping individuals who come to them with physical, emotional, and behavioral problems.  As they prepare to help, providers usually follow a routine—they get to know the person and their problem(s), examine the person, and, frequently, obtain additional information such as blood tests or x-rays.  Prior to recommending specific treatment, providers “make a diagnosis,” which then guides providers and patients to treatment options relevant to the problem at hand.

    Diagnoses are commonly expressed in terms of the manifestations of a problem (hives, for example) or the cause of a problem (for example, penicillin allergy).  Clinicians sometimes make diagnoses quickly and confidently or, at other times, slowly and tentatively.  They may entertain several candidate diagnoses, “the differential diagnosis,” before settling on a provisional, or working, diagnosis.

    A biology professor periodically reminded his students, “Variation is the law of life!”  Clinicians can testify to this.  No two patients—or the problems they present—are identical, which means that when clinicians make the same diagnosis in two individuals, they are not saying the two people have exactly the same problem.  They are saying that the problems of the two patients have important characteristics in common, often at a cellular level, and that both patients are likely to respond to similar treatments.

    For example, the thick, scratched blotches on the neck of the woman under stress do not look precisely like the raised, itchy patches that appeared on the arm of the young man after a dose of penicillin.  But if clinicians diagnose hives in both cases, both patients will likely obtain relief if they accept treatment with an antihistamine.

The two people and two skin eruptions are not identical, but the underlying cellular processes and responses to medication are so much alike that both individuals, with different but similar problems, benefit from receiving the same diagnosis—and ensuing treatment guided by that diagnosis.

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From Bar to Bars: Links between Alcohol and Crime

From Bar to Bars: Links between Alcohol and Crime

Crimes related to illegal drugs often make headlines—seizures of substances, arrests of drug lords and dealers, and laws broken to support habits. Crimes related to alcohol are also in the news, but we may have to turn to police logs to find them. Yet alcohol is implicated in 56.6 percent of incarcerations in America, which includes 57.7 percent of inmates who committed a violent crime such as murder, forcible rape, robbery, or aggravated assault. Alcohol has more links to crime than any other single drug. (Behind Bars II: Substance Abuse and America’s Prison Population).

Consumption of alcohol does not in itself cause crime. But alcohol impairs coordination and judgment, which makes driving dangerous, especially for young, inexperienced drinkers. Estimates vary, but some authorities report alcohol-impaired driving contributes to more than 50 percent of motor vehicle crashes and more than 50 percent of highway fatalities. Driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol is against the law for good reason.

About one-third of individuals arrested or convicted of drunk driving are repeat offenders. Of course a calamity may occur the very first time someone drinks and drives, but over 80 percent of DUI offenders are estimated to be more than casual users of alcohol and/or other drugs. Screening, intervention, and treatment of offenders reduce future risks to them and to others on the road.

Again, alcohol consumption does not in itself cause crime. But alcohol is disinhibiting, which means individuals under the influence of alcohol are more likely to do things they would not otherwise do. Alcohol is also addictive, which means some individuals will do things they would not otherwise do—repeatedly.

Following incarceration for addiction-related crimes, recidivism to substance use and to crime is probable unless those released engage in addiction recovery. A study that found only eleven percent of inmates with substance use disorders received relevant treatment during incarceration also reported that each former inmate who remains sober, crime-free, and employed will save the nation $91,000 per year.

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Videos

Videos

KUSI SAN DIEGO PEOPLE - UNDERSTANDING ADDICTION

 

 

 

 

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Alcoholics Anonymous and The Atlantic: A Call For Better Science

Alcoholics Anonymous and The Atlantic:  A Call For Better Science

In the December, 2015, edition of this Science Update we responded to a recent article appearing in The Atlantic.1 Its author, Gabrielle Glaser, claimed that AA and its 12-step programs lack scientific foundation, asserting that “nothing about the 12-step approach draws on modern science …..” We presented the data supporting the opposite case, citing several published scientific reports that she did not mention. In the present installment, we review the basis on which she asserts her claim that the success rate of AA is only 5-8 percent. Relying on a single secondary source2 for this claim, Ms. Glaser writes, “That is just a rough estimate [of AA’s effectiveness], but it’s the most precise one I’ve been able to find.” Because flawed science can cause harm, we offer a critique of the scientific basis she cites for her claim.

At the outset, Ms. Glaser’s source presents neither new data nor any of the studies we have cited that report first-hand observations targeting AA’s effectiveness. Rather, her source itself refers only to data gathered by others, mostly for purposes other than judging AA’s effectiveness. This forms the basis for three separate, questionable, calculations that arrive at the 5-8% figure. In each calculation, all dropouts—counted after as few as one AA meeting—are treated as AA failures. By analogy, this seems to us like counting insulin for diabetes as a failed treatment after only one insulin injection. In our view, looking at outcome rates for active AA members offers a more accurate estimate of AA’s effectiveness. But let us examine the 5-8% figure.

In the first calculation, The Atlantic article’s source multiplies a 25% AA attendance figure by a 22% abstinence figure to arrive at a 5.5% estimate of AA’s effectiveness. Where do these figures come from? Another second-hand source3 that also cites the work of others: two publications from the Rand Corporation that examined, among other things, attempts at controlled drinking and offered little focus on AA’s effectiveness.  At 4-year follow-up the Rand group identified patients with at least one year abstinence who had been regular members of AA 18 months after the start of treatment: 42% of the regular AA members were abstinent, not the “calculated” 5.5% figure. The Rand Reports are public and both Ms. Glaser and The Atlantic editors could have read them rather than rely on a third-hand source.

The second calculation repeats the 25% AA attendance rate multiplying it by another “abstinence rate” of 21%. This rate is taken from an article by Harris and colleagues4 who surveyed 150 alcoholics entering a residential treatment program because they were not abstinent. Based on the reports of those entering, the study concluded that the sample did “not represent ‘typical’ AA recruits.” Despite this, the third-hand calculation method uses two percentages lifted out of context from the Harris study—16% who had reported ever taking at least one step of the 12-step program divided by 75% who had ever attended an AA meeting—and gives a figure of 21%. This calculation has no bearing on abstinence from alcohol, nor does it apply to AA participation over time. Ms. Glaser and her editors at The Atlantic might have looked into these available data in greater detail in the interest of accuracy.

The third calculation applies the 21% “abstinence” rate claimed above to an alleged 40% sustained abstinence rate noted in yet another report, a paper by Fiorentine (1999).5 Ms. Glaser’s source quotes Fiorentine as writing “’approximately 40 percent of individuals categorized as having continued active participation in AA maintained high rates of abstinence.’” Our reading of Fiorentine’s paper fails to find any such statement. Curiously, Fiorentine reports on a study of drug addicted individuals, only a portion of whom were identified as having an alcohol problem, to offer an estimate of the success of AA. That being said, the data Fiorentine presents is as follows: 77.7% of individuals who attended AA 12-step meetings at least weekly reported being free of drug use for 6 months prior to a 24-month follow-up, a finding corroborated by urinalysis at the time of the interview, and 74.8 % reported being free of alcohol use during the same time period. These figures suggest that a high observed abstinence rate is associated with regular participation in AA. Neither The Atlantic editors nor Ms. Glaser indicate an awareness of these factual discrepancies.

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Alcoholics Anonymous: Science vs. Sensationalism

Alcoholics Anonymous: Science vs. Sensationalism

Alcoholics Anonymous is the most widely used treatment for alcoholism in the world, yet it continues to come under attack by popular media ignorant of the science behind its success. A recent high profile attack appeared in the April 2015 issue of The Atlantic, in the form of an article by Gabrielle Glaser titled, “The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous.”   In this article, Ms. Glaser boldly states that 12-step programs lack a scientific foundation and that most professional treatment programs fail to provide scientifically supported treatment, largely because they are 12-step oriented. Ms. Glaser writes, “The problem is that nothing about the 12-step approach draws on modern science: not the character building, not the tough love, not even the standard 28-day rehab stay.”

Contrary to Ms. Glaser’s sweeping statements about the lack of science concerning AA, a significant body of research has been conducted on this organization and its impact on drinking and other variables. For example, three colleagues and one of the authors (CDE) published a meta-analysis of the scientific literature on Alcoholics Anonymous in 1993, incorporating a grand total of 107 data sets in the overall analysis. The findings of this meta-analysis were correlational due to the fact that most of the available data at that time were correlational in nature. These results showed positive correlations between AA membership and drinking outcome, as well as other outcome measures such as psychological health. Of course, correlation does not mean causation. Thus, the data at that time offered promising evidence for the effectiveness of AA but could not support the conclusion that involvement in AA causes better outcomes with respect to drinking and other variables.

But science moves on. A more recent publication (Vaillant 2012) offers yet another example of high-quality research on AA. Dr. George Vaillant of Harvard University reported his analysis of two male cohorts (Harvard undergraduates and inner-city Boston youth) who were studied in depth for 60 years (from the time they were 20 until they were 80)! Over the course of the study, 39 men in the college cohort and 101 men in the inner city cohort were identified as alcoholics. When the lives of these men were studied at age 80 (some of the men were deceased but information was obtained on the status of these individuals at the time of their death), 9 of the college cohort who became alcoholic had been abstinent an average of 15 years and 57 of the inner city cohort alcoholics had been abstinent for an average of 16 years. The remaining men in both cohorts had been abstinent an average of only 1 year over the course of their lives. It is important to note that the duration of active alcoholism did not differ between those who developed long-term abstinence and those who did not. Of relevance to the present article is that those who achieved long-term abstinence in the college cohort attended an average of 137 AA meetings compared to just 2 meetings among those with only short-term abstinence, while those in the inner-city cohort who maintained long-term abstinence attended 143 AA meetings, on average, compared to just 8 meetings among those who did not acquire long-term abstinence. In answer to the question, “is recovery through AA the exception or the rule?” Dr. Vaillant concludes, “In both cohorts, the men who were stably abstinent attended about twenty times as many AA meetings as the chronically alcoholic.” These data, while remarkable, are, as with the Emrick et al. findings, plagued with the issue of self-selection bias. It could be that individuals who go to AA are more motivated to stop drinking than those who don’t become AA involved, with the result that AA members have better drinking outcome, not because they are participating in AA, but rather because they were a more motivated group of alcoholics to begin with. The possibility of self-selection bias thus prevents Vaillant’s (as well as Emrick et al.’s) data from offering evidence that AA involvement causes better drinking outcome.

Fortunately, scientific investigations of AA have continued to advance. From 1993 to 2010, five randomized clinical trials were conducted in which AA Facilitation Interventions (AAFI) was one of the treatments studied. A general finding of these studies is that patients who received some form of AAFI had better drinking outcome than patients receiving alternative treatment(s), with the better outcome appearing to be mediated by AA involvement. Unfortunately, even with these and other clinical trials on AA, selection bias continues to be a thorny problem. That is, some patients assigned to AAFIs do not become involved in AA and patients assigned to alternative interventions become involved despite their being in treatment that does not encourage participation in AA. Given this situation (known as crossover) if AA participation in these studies is found to lead to better outcome than non-participation, we cannot be sure that involvement in AA per se is causing the better outcome. This is because the better outcome seen in AA members may be due, at least in part, to their having stronger motivation to recover from alcohol problems than do non-AA participants. Thus, selection bias is not fully eliminated even when using a randomized clinical trial research design.

In order to address this nagging issue pertaining to the aforementioned randomized clinical trials, Dr. Keith Humphreys, a professor at Stanford University, and colleagues employed an innovative statistical analytic method that controls for selection bias--a procedure called instrumental variables modelling. This analysis enabled the researchers to determine if increased AA involvement due to AAFIs made a difference in drinking outcomes when the role of the participants’ motivation to recover from alcoholism was taken out of the comparison between patients receiving AAFIs and those getting alternative treatments. The results of this study were published in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research in November of 2014. Humphreys et al. used the number of days abstinent as the outcome measure. The main finding was that at both three and 15-month follow-ups, those who increased AA attendance due to the effects of AAFIs (not personal motivation) had significantly more days of abstinence than those getting alternative treatments who did not go to AA.   To clarify, involvement in AA was the variable that led to better drinking outcome, not receipt of AAFIs per se. The scientists conclude, “For most individuals seeking help for alcohol problems, increasing AA attendance leads to short- and long-term decreases in alcohol consumptions that cannot be attributed to self-selection.”

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Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA)

CARAfactsheetAsk Your Senator or Representative to Support the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) of 2015 | Faces & Voices of Recovery.

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NCADD-SD to Join the UNITE To Face Addiction Rally

face addiction logoOn October 4, 2015 NCADD-SD will be supporting Facing Addiction, along with more than 600 organizations from around the world, will gather in a show of solidarity to UNITE to Face Addiction and end the silence around our most urgent health crisis. Together we can help the 22 million Americans with addiction, stand up for the 23 million more in recovery, and urgently act to save the 350 lives lost each day.

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