Family members of people with addictions can exert the same type of leverage that has led to great success in the recovery of doctors in physician health programs, two longtime field leaders said this week at the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit.
“The secret weapon in the war against addiction is the family,” said Robert DuPont, MD, president of the Institute for Behavior and Health and the first director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in the 1970s.
DuPont and Caron Treatment Centers president and CEO Doug Tieman discussed the essential role of families in an April 4 breakout session at the Atlanta conference. Tieman explained that among participants in Caron's My First Year of Recovery support program, according to the treatment organization's data, 57% had been continuously abstinent from substances at program completion.
These participants have a financial stake in the support they receive post-treatment, as they make a payment commitment for the year on a scale based on ability to pay, Tieman pointed out.
The comments of DuPont, who also served as the nation's second drug policy director in the federal government, indicated that an embrace of the family's role should be intertwined with an understanding of professional treatment's limits.
“I believe no treatment fixed any addict,” DuPont said. He attributed the field's traditional thinking about fixing patients to “hubris” on the part of members of the medical profession.
DuPont said outcomes from treatment alone, even the gold standard of medication treatment for opioid dependence, remain disappointing overall (attributed largely to lower-than-needed retention rates). This highlights the need for longer-term support. “Today relapse is the common outcome of treatment,” he said.
Physician health programs have set the standard in long-term monitoring and support, DuPont said. In some of the research in which he has been directly involved, he reported on a physician recovery rate of 96% a full five years after the final mandatory drug test in a physician health program. He believes families can be the same agents of long-term change that these physician programs have been.
Tieman outlined the evolution of family programming at Caron, the nationally prominent addiction treatment organization that he has led since 1995. Its offerings range from free parent support groups—also open to families that have not used Caron for treatment services—to an intensive family restructuring program that brings together all members of a struggling family for one to two weeks.
The National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit is the largest national collaboration of professionals from local, state, and federal agencies, business, academia, clinicians, treatment providers, counselors, educators, state and national leaders, and advocates impacted by prescription drug abuse and heroin use.