Southeastern Massachusetts is a region of New England that has been keenly affected by alcohol, drug, and gambling addictions. Its hub communities of New Bedford, the former whaling capital of the world, and Fall River have hit hard times economically after formerly thriving as textile and manufacturing centers. Alicen-J. McGowan, PhD, runs an outpatient treatment center in this region's town of North Dartmouth for AdCare Hospital, the Worcester, Mass.-based organization that is the largest addiction treatment agency in New England.
Alicen-J. McGowan, PhD McGowan began to think about ways to address what she considered to be a real pocket of need for information on substance and gambling addiction in this hard-hit region. Realizing that the greatest impact she could have was through education, she drafted a proposal and sent it to area radio stations asking for sponsorship of a program on alcohol, drug, and gambling education. McGowan sought no compensation for hosting the show—she just wanted to start a one-hour weekly program to get the word out on aspects of treatment and prevention. She envisioned a format in which parents and kids could call in and ask questions.
Local news/talk radio station WBSM (AM 1420) informed McGowan that the station would provide airtime for the program, with one hitch: She would have to pay for the time. After soliciting national foundations and personalities for help, to no avail, McGowan approached AdCare and the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling. The two entities eagerly agreed to sponsor the program for its initial run of 13 shows, allowing the broadcasts to start last June.
“I wanted to get the word out that abuse of drugs and alcohol and gambling were not hopeless actions,” says McGowan. “I wanted to get over the stigma associated with identification and treatment.”
The program, called “ADDICTION,” airs every other Thursday from 11 to 11:50 a.m. About half of the broadcasts focus on drugs and alcohol, and the other half on gambling. Each program has a theme, and topics so far have included teens and addiction, methamphetamine, opiates, college drinking, relapse prevention, intervention, and a variety of gambling issues.
The show is broadcast live. The topic and guest are introduced, followed by discussion and call-ins. The volume of phone calls has been strong. “A couple of times we weren't able to get to all of the telephone calls and a couple of times we had to delay some calls to the next show,” says McGowan.
The shows on gambling tend to get a lot of calls, as this is a much talked-about topic in Southeastern Massachusetts right now. State officials are in the midst of a debate on placing casinos at locations throughout the Commonwealth, one of which would likely be in the southeast region. A recent survey conducted by the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling showed a prevalence of gambling addiction and gambling problems in Southeastern Massachusetts.
McGowan's program does not take a position on gambling, but callers have wanted to discuss issues such as the risks of becoming a pathological gambler and warning signs of an emerging gambling addiction. “I think people would be thrilled if we did every program on gambling,” she says.
In addition to the show's stated themes, the programs delve into many different aspects of addiction and treatment. “We talk about how people get addicted, where they can get help, how parents or family members can be supportive, what are triggers, what's going on in the brain,” says McGowan. “We've talked a lot about the neurochemistry of the brain because people are interested in that and we talk a lot about the social science research, where we're going, what's happening.”
When McGowan approached AdCare with the proposal that the treatment provider sponsor her radio program, Jim McKenna, vice president of marketing and development at AdCare Hospital, thought after some deliberation that it might be a good idea.
“We do advertising, and the advertising we do really is to heighten the awareness of people with substance abuse,” says McKenna. “It's a call to action, and if you don't go with us, go with someone, but you really have to do something.”
McKenna adds that AdCare's advertising is geared primarily toward family and friends, so he thought the radio program might reflect this well. “We were willing to try it, evaluate it, and certainly we're very happy with the results,” he says.
AdCare runs ads with the program as part of its sponsorship. McKenna believes that the ads help with name recognition for the organization, and there have been a few referrals as a result. “But if you really looked at it and just measured it on referrals, it's not that cost-effective,” he says. From an AdCare business perspective, he considers sponsoring the program primarily a branding, long-term benefit.
“The more we can get out the AdCare name synonymous with alcohol and drug treatment, and now into gambling treatment, the better off we're going to be,” McKenna says. “It's a long-term strategy.”
The program also fits with AdCare's mission to educate the community about substance addiction. AdCare allocates part of its budget for this purpose. “As long as we're educating the community on substance abuse and other addictions, we feel that we're doing our job—this is a way of doing that,” McKenna says.
The Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling is a strong advocate for treatment and prevention services. Ed Talbot, an AdCare community services representative and treasurer of the gambling council, says he is satisfied with the program and his organization's sponsorship of it. He has received direct feedback from listeners and has been a guest on the program.