Friday, June 15, 2018

Opening in Los Angeles!

Opening in California!

I’m pleased to announce the opening of Alltyr Addiction and Mental Health Services in Los Angeles, CA! In order to establish a footprint there, we’ve rented an office at 10886 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90024. It’s on the corner of Wilshire and Westwood, near UCLA.

I’ll be coming out for the first time next week. I’ll be arriving Thursday night, and I’ll be in the office all day Friday and possibly Sat AM. Phone number is the same. I’ll be out monthly at first, and do the rest via telehealth. As business picks up, I’ll be coming out more often and/or for longer time periods.

I’m really looking forward to bringing Alltyr’s brand of 21st Century addiction and mental health treatment to California!


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

More Evidence Chantix May Reduce Heavy Drinking(*)

A newly published study suggests varenicline (Chantix) may have role in the treatment of co-occurring alcohol use disorder and smoking.  Results from the Phase 2, randomized placebo-controlled trial, published in last month's JAMA Psychiatry, showed a reduction in the percentage of heavy drinking days among some of its participants.  These results, however, came with a big asterisk: the improvements were only seen among the men enrolled in the study, while the women in the placebo group showed more improvement than those in the medication group.

Chantix has been FDA-approved for smoking cessation since 2006.  As a partial nicotinic acetylcholine receptor agonist, it has been called the "Suboxone of nicotine addiction."  As researchers gained insights into the converging role this receptor system plays in both smoking and alcohol reward, the idea that it could have value in alcohol use disorder (AUD) treatment gained momentum.  Preclinical studies in 2007, 2009, and 2011 showed some promising results, indicating rodents taking the medicine drank less alcohol than those who weren't.  This led to several small human trials of Chantix for heavy drinking, though with mixed results.  The February study was the first to show such divergent results between the two genders, and it is unclear why men fared so much better than the women enrolled in the study.

Nevertheless, these results contribute a little more data to the search for new addiction medications and suggest prescribers may want to consider Chantix for their male patients who both smoke and drink heavily.  Here at Alltyr Clinic, we have seen some of our AUD patients respond quite well to Chantix.  Since our clinicians routinely screen our patients who smoke for their desire to quit, it has been a logical option to consider as a firstline treatment. Despite the less-than-blockbuster results of this study, we are glad to hear about any new research on potential medication options.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Researchers: Supervised Methadone and Buprenorphine Dosing Adds Little Therapeutic Benefit

Methadone, the full agonist synthetic opioid, is one of the most tightly regulated medications on the planet - at least, that is, when it's being used to treat opioid addiction.  Here in Minnesota, no fewer than 5 regulatory bodies oversee the clinics that provide methadone maintenance treatment (MMT).  One of the core federal requirements of "opiate treatment programs" is daily supervised dosing, requiring patients to come daily to the clinic to receive their dose, observed by trained nursing staff for at least the first 3 months.  After that, patients earn one additional day of "take-home" doses at a time until they've earned 1 week (after the 8th month of treatment), then 2 weeks (after the first year in treatment), and finally 4 weeks of take-home doses (after 2 years of sustained participation in the program).  The rationale for these highly restrictive federal rules, ostensibly, has been that it will protect patient safety, decrease diversion, and will improve outcomes among MMT patients.

A recent review of the literature throws these assumptions into question.  The review, analyzed and shared by the folks at Drug and Alcohol Findings, found "no evidence that supervising consumption meant patients were better safeguarded or that the treatment more effectively reduced illegal drug use."  Instead, these policies tend to be quite costly to programs and burdensome to patients.  They reinforce negative stereotypes about MMT patients and have prevented people from seeking potentially lifesaving treatment. 

Here at Alltyr Clinic, we routinely hear from patients that the ability to receive a monthly prescription of Suboxone has meant they could keep their job or maintain their role within the family.  With all the national attention being given to the recent spike in overdose statistics, maybe it's time the feds re-visit these burdensome regulations and increase access to the highly effective treatments. 

From the Findings UK article:

Supervised dosing with a long-acting opioid medication in the management of opioid dependence

Key points
From summary and commentary

Guidelines recommend making opioid-dependent patients take their methadone or other opioid substitutes at the clinic or pharmacy to safeguard the patient and prevent medication being ‘diverted’ to other people.
Randomised trials and studies study which monitored patients in routine treatment afforded no evidence that supervising consumption meant patients were better safeguarded or that the treatment more effectively reduced illegal drug use.
However, introduction of supervision to UK treatment services was associated with fewer methadone-related overdose deaths.
Findings and expert opinion support initial supervised consumption and its relaxation on an individual basis, depending on assessment of the patient.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Language We Use in Addiction Treatment

The language we use related to alcohol and drug use disorders is often stigmatizing and misguided. Alltyr’s mission is to transform addiction treatment in America. Changing language is a necessary step in that process.

Here’s is Alltyr’s guide to addiction language for the 21st Century.

Instead of saying:
person with an alcohol use disorder (AUD)
person with a substance use disorder (SUD)
alcohol /drug abuse
risky use, heavy drinking, risky drinking
abstaining, in remission
betrayer, liar, cheat, thief, selfish
addicted person, sick, ill
loved one  
unhelpful or unskillful behavior
tough love
self-care, setting reasonable limits and expectations
unmotivated, denial
ambivalent about change, non-adherent, not yet able to overcome barriers to change, demoralized
dry drunk
irritable, moody, troubled, erratic, struggling
slip, lapse, relapse
use episode, recurrence, set-back
recovery (abstinence + spiritual growth)
remission (absence of illness once present)
recurrence, set-back
relapse prevention
recovery skills training
treatment program
Treatment (meaning rehab)
treatment (includes all levels of care)
MAT (medication assisted treatment)
treatment, pharmacotherapy, anti-relapse meds
harm reduction
treatment, chronic care management, partial response

Want to learn more about The Alltyr Model of Care™? Visit our website: 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Substance Matters Blog is Back!

Hi Everyone,

The blog is back! In 2014, I stopped blogging because I was too busy to keep it interesting. With growth and other recent changes, we'll be starting to post again. A link to the blog is always available on, so you don't have to worry about bookmarking this URL.

A lot has changed since 2014. Alltyr Clinic has grown, and development of the Alltyr Model of Care is complete. We are still located in downtown St. Paul, MN, but plan to expand into the west metro Twin Cities area. We are also looking at expansion in other states. The most likely new location is the Los Angeles area. Ian McLoone, who came aboard very early, helped me with the blog before, and will be posting as well.

I'm looking forward to continuing to do everything possible to disrupt the current corrupt and antiquated rehab system, and replace it with accessible, affordable, attractive and effective professional treatment.

Thanks for reading. Please comment on the posts.

And visit to learn more about how far Alltyr Clinic has come!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Myth of "Cross-Addiction" Debunked

For decades, the conventional wisdom and clinical lore in rehab facilities and recovery communities has warned against the risks of so-called "cross-addiction". "Be careful," they say, "you're at-risk of picking up a new addiction now that you've kicked one habit." Heroin addicts are warned against developing an addiction to alcohol, and cocaine addicts are warned against developing an addiction to opiates, Cross-addiction can even occur to things like exercise or sugar, according to pamphlets and even therapists who have worked in the field for years and years.

But is it even true? Is the notion of cross-addiction supported by empirical evidence - or does it fall on its face under scientific scrutiny?

According to a new report, published September 10 in JAMA Psychiatry, the answer is a resounding, "No."

The study, "Testing the Drug Substitution Switching-Addictions Hypothesis," analyzed data from the National Epidemiological Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) to investigate whether participants developed new-onset substance use disorders (SUD) after remission from a previous SUD. These data were then compared against people with a SUD who did not achieve remission but also developed a new-onset SUD.

The authors discovered that, "As compared with those who do not remit from an SUD, remitters have less than half the risk of developing a new SUD. Contrary to clinical lore, achieving remission does not typically lead to drug substitution but rather is associated with a lower risk of new SUD onsets."

This is probably the best evidence to-date that addresses the concept of cross-addiction. Will counselors and agencies begin to pull back from this concept - or will clients still be subjected to homework assignments and lectures warning against it?

Here's the abstract from JAMA Psychiatry (found here:

Importance  Adults who remit from a substance use disorder (SUD) are often thought to be at increased risk for developing another SUD. A greater understanding of the prevalence and risk factors for drug substitution would inform clinical monitoring and management.
Objective  To determine whether remission from an SUD increases the risk of onset of a new SUD after a 3-year follow-up compared with lack of remission from an SUD and whether sociodemographic characteristics and psychiatric disorders, including personality disorders, independently predict a new-onset SUD.
Design, Setting, and Participants  A prospective cohort study where data were drawn from a nationally representative sample of 34 653 adults from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Participants were interviewed twice, 3 years apart (wave 1, 2001–2002; wave 2, 2004–2005).
Main Outcomes and Measures  We compared new-onset SUDs among individuals with at least 1 current SUD at wave 1 who did not remit from any SUDs at wave 2 (n = 3275) and among individuals with at least 1 current SUD at wave 1 who remitted at wave 2 (n = 2741).
Results  Approximately one-fifth (n = 2741) of the total sample had developed a new-onset SUD at the wave 2 assessment. Individuals who remitted from 1 SUD during this period were significantly less likely than those who did not remit to develop a new SUD (13.1% vs 27.2%, P < .001). Results were robust to sample specification. An exception was that remission from a drug use disorder increased the odds of a new SUD (odds ratio [OR] = 1.46; 95% CI, 1.11-1.92). However, after adjusting for the number of SUDs at baseline, remission from drug use disorders decreased the odds of a new-onset SUD (OR = 0.66; 95% CI, 0.46-0.95) whereas the number of baseline SUDs increased those odds (OR=1.68; 95% CI, 1.43-1.98). Being male, younger in age, never married, having an earlier age at substance use onset, and psychiatric comorbidity significantly increased the odds of a new-onset SUD during the follow-up period.
Conclusions and Relevance  As compared with those who do not remit from an SUD, remitters have less than half the risk of developing a new SUD. Contrary to clinical lore, achieving remission does not typically lead to drug substitution but rather is associated with a lower risk of new SUD onsets.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Informed Consent in Addiction Treatment: An Ethical Obligation

Informed Consent in Opioid Addiction Treatment: An Ethical Obligation

This article was originally published in The Carlat Addiction Treatment Report, Volume 2, #3, May 2014
Printer-friendly version
 CATR, May 2014, Vol 2, Issue 3, Opioid Addiction
Informed consent—whether it be for psychotherapy, prescribing a medication, or performing a surgical procedure—is an ethical principle firmly established in law and medicine.
While there has been no formal research on this subject, my experience suggests that many addiction treatment programs fail to obtain valid informed consent. The starkest example occurs in the treatment of opioid addiction, where the practices and beliefs of clinicians often differ markedly from the evidence regarding effective treatments.
What is Informed Consent?
Informed consent refers to the collaborative process that a provider and patient go through to develop a treatment plan for the patient’s problems. This moral requirement is based on the principle of respecting a person’s autonomy, that is, their right “to hold views, to make choices, and to take actions based on their values and beliefs” (Beauchamp TL & Childress JF.Principles of Bio-medical Ethics, 7th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013:122–123).
Valid consent fulfills three criteria (Grimm DA, N M Law Rev 2007;37(1):39–83). First, the patient needs to have decision-making capacity. Capacity, in a medical context, refers to patients’ ability to understand information, appreciate their situation, use reason to make a decision, and communicate their choices (Applebaum PS, N Engl J Med 2007;357(18):1834–1840). This is referred to as the “capacity” criterion.
Second, the provider needs to present the full range of available treatment options based on current scientific knowledge. During this discussion, he or she needs to outline the risks and benefits of these various options and what could be reasonably expected if the patient declines treatment altogether. This is called the “disclosure” criterion.
Finally, valid consent requires that patients are free from coercion—that is, they are in a position to voluntarily choose any treatment option that they feel is best for them. This is described as the “voluntariness” criterion.
A provider has failed to obtain valid informed consent if any of these elements are missing.
Legal Standards
Legal requirements for consent have evolved over centuries. Until relatively recently, courts used a physician-oriented point of view: the physician was required to provide information he or she felt was in the patient’s best interests. This resulted in practices such as informing a spouse, but not the patient, of a terminal disease. In other cases, providers deliberately omitted certain treatment options from their discussions with patients because of their personal beliefs or biases against them.
Through a series of court decisions, a new standard, the “reasonable person” or “prudent person” standard, emerged. Providers are now expected to present patients with information that a reasonable or prudent person would want to know in order to make healthcare decisions (Berg JW et al.Informed Consent: Legal Theory and Clinical Practice, 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001:48).
In clinical practice, a provider is not allowed to withhold information from a patient based on his or her judgment that one treatment is better than another. The provider is thus required to present the scientific evidence supporting available treatment options, the expected outcomes of these various treatments, and the clinician’s recommendation for the patient and the rationale for it. This recommendation also needs to take into account any patient-specific features that factored into the provider’s decision-making.
This means that clinicians are legally obligated to provide information that they may prefer to withhold. The purpose of informed consent, however, is not to “conveniently promote a treatment plan; it requires informing patients with the recognition that they may disagree with a recommended treatment plan and retain the authority to do so” (Berg et al, op.cit).
There is also an important distinction between the actual process of obtaining autonomous authorization for a treatment or procedure and institutional requirements that patients sign informed consent documents. Patients frequently sign such documents in the absence of true informed consent (Beauchamp & Childress, op.cit).
Evidence-Based Treatment
Providers are obligated to summarize the scientific data concerning the effectiveness of various treatment options. The only treatment with consistent, strong evidence of effectiveness for opioid addiction is indefinite opioid maintenance therapy with either buprenorphine or methadone (Mattick RP et al, Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2014;2:CD002207).
Currently, the World Health Organization, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Department of Health and Human Services, and many other agencies and organizations recommend methadone and buprenorphine maintenance as first-line treatments.
In contrast, there is no evidence commending drug-free (or so-called abstinence-based) treatments (Mayet S et al, Cochrane Database Syst Rev2005;1:CD004330). Moreover, there is good evidence that psychosocial or intensive behavioral approaches fail to improve outcomes compared to minimal drug counseling in patients receiving opioid maintenance therapy (Amato L et al, Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2011;10:CD004147; Fiellin DA et al, Am J Med 2013;126(1):74.e11–17).
Naltrexone is the only other medication that has been approved by the FDA for opioid addiction. Oral naltrexone (ReVia) is ineffective (Minozzi S et al,Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2011;4: CD001333) and the efficacy of extended-release, injectable naltrexone (Vivitrol) was established in just a single, industry-sponsored study conducted in Russia, where buprenorphine and methadone are not legally available (Krupitsky E et al, Lancet2011;377(9776):1506–1513).
Presently, evidence for Vivitrol’s effectiveness is limited and generalization of clinical trial data to other countries is questionable. (For more, see“Vivitrol: Another Option for Opioid Addiction?”)
Meeting the Capacity Criterion
In addiction treatment, patients who are experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms may not have capacity due to pain and emotional distress. Other confounders include co-occurring mental disorders and cognitive impairment associated with prescribed medications and substances of abuse. Although beyond the scope of this article, simple bedside instruments allow providers to evaluate and easily document a patient’s decision-making capacity (Tunzi M, Am Fam Physician 2001;64(2):299–306).
Meeting the Disclosure Criterion
Providers need to have a clear understanding of available treatment options and the scientific evidence supporting each one, so they can meet their obligation concerning disclosure.
This article’s brief summary may serve as a starting point. Standard textbooks are also a ready source of such information (eg, Strain EC & Stitzer ML eds. The Treatment of Opioid Dependence. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006). In addition, a number of plain language resources geared toward patients are available (eg,
Providers need to present patients with more than their program’s philosophy or even the community standard of care. Remember, the standard for disclosure is what a reasonable or prudent patient would want to know, not a narrow presentation concerning usual care or the provider’s personal preferences. In the case of opioid addiction, this means summarizing the scientific data on the effectiveness of treatment options. This is a fiduciary duty that trumps the clinician’s personal preferences and their program’s philosophy of care.
Meeting the Voluntariness Criterion
Providers need to be very sensitive to overt, and more subtle covert, coercion when discussing treatment options with patients. Many people presenting for substance use treatment are subject to significant coercion from the legal system, employers, and families. Thus, we need to ensure that consent is truly voluntary and that we are not using coercion to impose our own views concerning treatment upon patients.
This ethical obligation may require advocating for a treatment option different than what a judge, probation officer, employer, or family prefers or recommends.
CATR’s Take: Addiction treatment has historically been very prescriptive and patients often had little choice about the care that they received. This article is a good reminder that providers have an affirmative duty to obtain informed consent and engage patients in shared decision-making.