As Life of Purpose Treatment grows as a substance use treatment provider, its founder and CEO continues to build on his parallel goal of facilitating evidence-based research on recovery. Life of Purpose announced this week that it has committed funds for a second research center to be supported by the organization—this one located at the University of North Texas.
“If we don't get actual research published with universities, we're failing to equip our front-line people in the recovery advocacy movement,” Life of Purpose CEO Andrew Burki, MSW, tells Addiction Professional. “Research is how you change legislation, how you change public policy. Otherwise, you just have opinion.”
Life of Purpose, which was the first organization to establish a U.S. residential addiction treatment facility on a college campus (at Florida Atlantic University in Palm Beach County), has committed $100,000 for the establishment of the Office of Substance Misuse and Mental Health Recovery Research at the Denton-based University of North Texas. As is the case with the recovery research office it helped to launch at Florida Atlantic University, the University of North Texas office will be a full-fledged entity controlled by the university; it is being established under the university's Department of Disability and Addictions Rehabilitation.
“They're not influenced at all by Life of Purpose or anyone else,” Burki says.
He adds that he hopes these research entities will begin to populate the field with more objective and telling research about treatment and recovery. He bemoans the quality of what passes as much of the research that is cited in the field—a deficiency that he says fuels the meaningless success rate numbers that some treatment organizations toss around.
“It's insane that we're not putting hundreds of millions of dollars into research to attack this problem,” Burki says in reference to addiction and the toll it takes on society.
The research entities that Life of Purpose has helped to create are designed to capture academic talent from a number of disciplines, from neuroscience to social work. Corporate support has helped to grow the Florida research center that was established in early 2015, and the goal is to pursue endowments that will allow research chairs to be created, Burki says.
Changing the conversation
Heading an organization that specializes in treating the emerging adult population (Life of Purpose will be establishing an intensive outpatient treatment site at the University of North Texas campus), Burki has a particular interest in furthering research discovery that will benefit this age group. But he adds that the mission of the research entities in Florida and Texas is considerably broader.
He hopes that such entities can help change a public conversation that generally focuses on deaths and damage from addiction and ignores the other side: recovery and its benefits to the individual and the community. “The things you do see are negative,” Burki says.
In Florida, Life of Purpose operates residential and outpatient services and a sober-living community on the Florida Atlantic campus. Burki says that while patients in the more intensive levels of service generally aren't used as a research population, those participating in the campus's collegiate recovery program can serve as an ideal research cohort. Their experiences can shed light on the factors that are important to a successful recovery.
Burki, whose own academic pursuits were derailed for a time because of addiction, says the notion of how emerging adults should be treated has changed dramatically. “The model used to be, 'You can't let your kid go back to school,'” he says. This proved to be crushing to him in his youth, as he came from a family of high academic achievers.
Today, it is generally accepted that with the kind of support that an on-campus collegiate recovery program can provide, young people in recovery can successfully pursue their dreams. Studies have shown that college students participating in on-campus recovery programs have low relapse rates and outperform their peers academically, says Burki, who serves on the national board of the organization Young People in Recovery.