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Research as a core value

December 1, 2007
by DOUG TIEMAN
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Caron uses its research operation to improve services and inform the field

For more than a decade, Caron Treatment Centers has employed a director of research to review the quality and type of care offered at Caron and to help evaluate the issues that affect addiction and treatment in the 21st century. At Caron, research is at the core of business and treatment success. Research enables us to make constant improvements to our services and to the treatment field, to stay connected to alumni in recovery, and to raise awareness about the disease of addiction—all critical areas to Caron's continued success as a nonprofit treatment center.

When I became president and CEO of Caron a dozen years ago, Caron's leadership supported my assessment that we needed to determine best practices in treatment for ourselves and as part of a broader treatment community. We decided it was critical to have a research director on staff with a comprehensive knowledge of addiction and an understanding of how to study and apply findings both internally and externally.

Today, Erin Deneke, PhD, Caron's research director, works across Caron's clinical and administrative departments and also acts as a research liaison to external treatment centers and academic institutions. Prior to joining Caron in 2006, Deneke received her PhD at Loyola College in Maryland, where she conducted research projects on a variety of topics from domestic violence to hope and optimism.

At Caron, research participants are primarily patients and their families, although participants for more generalized studies may be drawn from outside of Caron. Those participating in a study must sign a consent form that acknowledges their willingness to participate. They are free to withdraw at any time. Information is kept highly confidential within the research department, and data are published in an aggregate format so that it is not possible to identify any specific individual through the reported findings, even within Caron. At this time, Caron is also engaged in a research study with off-site participants at another facility.

Generating improvements

Through research we're not only able to make observations about the issue of addiction, but we also make improvements to our business and to our current treatment practices to reflect the most current advances in the field of addiction treatment.

For example, research yielded the finding that adult men and young adult men were at very dissimilar stages of life and therefore dealt differently with their rehabilitation process. Qualitative observa-tions yielded that the younger group did not see a need to change their behavior. Their addiction to drugs or alcohol was destroying their lives, but they didn't experience a “bottom” the way the older male adults did. In addition, research found that the younger men were more responsive to being rewarded and encouraged for all positive behavior as opposed to being punished for bad behavior. Based on these findings, we changed our business and treatment model, creating an entirely new program for young men ages 20 to 26 and separating them from the original adult male program.

Caron also has a strong philosophy of social responsibility as part of our nonprofit business goals. We partner on research projects with leading universities such as the University of Pennsylvania. We are currently participating in an outcome study with the university as a way to better determine relapse triggers and relapse prevention following a patient's stay in rehab. By building strategic alliances with leading universities, we are able to share our knowledge with others and therefore contribute toward improvements in the addiction and mental health industry.

Since we are in the business of saving lives, it is important for our business goals to educate both clinical and consumer audiences that addiction is a treatable disease and that help is available. Caron offers comprehensive research reports on topics such as marijuana, alcoholism, mental illness, relapse, and women and addiction. These are made available via Caron's website and at conferences.

Contact with alumni, consumers

It is also an important business goal to keep our alumni connected to Caron. Research helps achieve this goal. Many of our alumni and families of alumni are parents of teenagers. We want to help provide them, as well as non-Caron consumers, with support around their teens’ behavior.

Deneke helped oversee a qualitative study with Nielsen BuzzMetrics that found teens were talking to their friends online about drinking and drug use. Using proprietary software and analytic methodology, we tapped into the unaided conversations teens have in public online communities, such as web message boards, discussion forums, blogs and public areas of social-networking sites (i.e., MySpace and Facebook). The first step in Nielsen BuzzMetrics’ study of teens was to identify where their online conversations take place. Analysts used a combination of automated and manual techniques to identify individual communities that include teen-focused discussion. They also looked for communities and sources that included discussion on drugs and alcohol use. Nielsen BuzzMetrics used its proprietary software to gather and process conversation data from teen-focused sites, putting it into one standard format in a single database. It then used analytic software to run analyses to gain insight into how teens are discussing drugs and alcohol online. Based on the findings, Caron provided results and parenting tips to our alumni network and the general public.

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