Addiction research has really picked up over the last few years, partially in response to the surge in opioid addictions. But what have we learned from all of this research regarding how to successfully treat addiction? We going to look at five recent research findings and explore what they reveal about the future of addiction treatment.
Longer Treatment is more Effective for Substance Addiction
One of the more publicized studies in recent days explores the opioid addiction crisis and its rate of relapse. Johns Hopkins University researchers examined the rate of relapse among individuals who were taking buprenorphine, a frequently prescribed anti-addiction medication. According to the study, 43 percent of those using buprenorphine sought a prescription refill of an opioid while using the drug. The opioid was either taken or given to other addicts. The study also found that despite the recommend length of months to years for which the patient should continue taking buprenorphine, the average length of time patients took the drug was just 55 days. After stopping the drug, patients went back to opioid use in overwhelming numbers. What is to blame for these relapses? The study suggests that “inefficiency and poor communication are to blame much more than drug-seekers trying to manipulate the system.” Doctors are required by law to enter any prescriptions they prescribe to patients into a database for other doctors to verify before prescribing they prescribe additional medication. These databases are being widely avoided, many doctors don’t check them or they aren’t even registered with them to enter information. This is of course only part of the problem. Treating an opioid addiction with another opioid runs its own risks. What can be taken from this research? Patients that are prescribed buprenorphine or Suboxone must take the drug for the prescribed amount of time for a chance a beating their addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the relapse rate for addiction sits between 40 to 60 percent. This research will hopefully lead doctors and addiction professionals to educate patients on the risks of relapse and the amount of time these anti-addiction medications should be taken.
TSRI Scientists’ Addiction Research shows Deep Brain Stimulation blocks Heroin Relapse in Rats
The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) recently completed a study that could have strong implications in the treatment of heroin addiction. The study, led by associate professor Oliver George, utilized weak electrical stimulation through electrodes that were implanted in the brains of rats. The study showed that rats that were addicted to heroin were less likely to escalate their heroin intake while receiving electrical stimulation. The results of previous studies in this area have been much less conclusive. What implications does this have for heroin treatment in the future? According to George, these types of studies are necessary before the treatment can be designed for human testing. Proving that the study can be replicated is the next step in the process. When the research findings have been replicated, it may be possible to move towards designing a study on humans. The challenge there will be to find the right amount of stimulation to produce a similar result to that found in the rats. This could be a very important finding in the treatment of heroin addiction.
Patients with Opioid Addiction Benefit from Treatment Initiated in Emergency Room
Many individuals suffering from opioid addiction will at some point find themselves in the emergency room of a hospital, sometimes for detox treatment. According to a recent Yale study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, should these individuals receive a medication to reduce cravings while in the ER, they may be more likely to seek addiction treatment after leaving. The study followed 290 individuals that received treatment for opioid addiction in the ER. These individuals one of three types of counseling:
- Referral to addiction treatment services
- A brief interview discussing treatment options
- Referral for medication through primary care physician
The study checked in with patients after two, six, and 12 months after their initial treatment in the ER. The patients were checked for the participation in an addiction treatment program, as well as their rate of opioid use among other items. The study found that those patients that received buprenorphine in the ER were more likely to be enrolled in an addiction treatment program after two months and reported a marked reduction in opioid use. This study may prove to help ER doctors in diagnosing and treating opioid addiction through craving-reducing medications such as buprenorphine. The access to long-term addiction treatment may open a bit more should these doctors begin to directly offer referrals for addiction treatment.
Tangible Rewards Can be a Useful Addition to Addiction Treatment Programs
According to research compiled in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, a new form of behavioral intervention known as contingency management (CM) has shown promise when being used in addiction treatment programs. A group of researchers from the University of Connecticut Health Center presented findings from 16 different articles that showed that the method can be effective as a component of addiction treatment. CM provides patients with incentives once they begin completing various objectives throughout the recovery process such as therapy attendance, favorable urine test results, and even fully abstaining from drug use. The incentives are most commonly provided via prizes or vouchers. The voucher system awards cash vouchers that can be redeemed for the services offered by the addiction treatment facility. The prize technique usually offers free meals or therapy sessions. CM treatment has also cropped up on web and mobile-based platforms with smart phone apps that connect to breathalyzers or smoking monitors. These platforms are proving to be an easy and cost-effective way to help individuals with their addictions. These platforms are already being implemented by various offices including the U.S. Veterans Affairs Healthcare System. After successful implementation, addition research may be able to bolster claims of the effectiveness of CM treatment. Though the results are promising, the study did suggest that the individuals that entered treatment with a negative urine drug test were less affected by the use of CM treatment techniques. Those with positive drug urine tests were much more receptive to the incentive-based treatment method.
Challenges in Going from Residential Substance Abuse Treatment to the Community
One of the more difficult aspects of addiction treatment involves how patients are able to move from inpatient or residential treatment to being back into the community. Those who receive residential treatment relapse within the first year between 37 to 56 percent. This number is reduced when patients continue attending aftercare session, but less than half actually seek it. In order to learn more about these relapse numbers, researchers from Services for the UnderServed, Inc. (SUS) conducted a study that examined the barriers for successful transition following residential addiction treatment. The study found that following completion of a residential treatment program, there were several common barriers that many individuals faced:
- 62.5% expressed struggling to meet basic needs through financial stability and living arrangements
- 46.9% felt that they had limited to no support network and 40.6% relented that their friends were also suffering from addiction
- 34.4% complained that facilities were short-staffed and unable to provide the aftercare services that are crucial in combating relapse
The researchers believe that the results of the survey point heavily to the need for more assistance in the aftercare stage, including housing assistance and support networks. Overall, the study’s findings could help to encourage more of those involved in addiction treatment to focus on the transition from inpatient to community. Hopefully, further research in the area will increase awareness and lead to the development of more key programs to help those that are recovering from addiction. These studies are generating very important conversations about ways that we can successfully treat addiction and help people get their lives back. Which study did you find the most interesting? Are you following other studies that we didn’t discuss? Share your thoughts in the comments below.