Sunday, October 9, 2011

No More Unsupportable Claims!

I had a conversation this past week with another professional who is offering alternatives to 12-step rehab. I had examined his website and had some concerns I wanted to discuss with him. The most important was that on his site, he made claims that I didn't think were scientifically supportable. He claimed, for example, that his program yielded a 70% response (read: cure) rate. So we had a talk. It wasn't easy. I expressed my concern that those of us offering alternatives would be best served by sticking as close as possible to scientifically supportable claims or assertions. I also said that I was concerned that if we acted like current providers in making unsupportable claims that we would hurt our cause. He said that his program is extremely selective in who they take. They accept only "highly motivated" individuals who apparently have little in the way of significant coexisting problems. Among this group, he claimed a 70% rate of success "as the client defined it." He also said some things about accepting only clients with "abuse" rather than "dependence." Finally, he said that a prominent 12-step program had only a 3-5% success rate (compared to his 70%.) Well, as you can imagine, this didn't sit especially well with me. Even with great selection, I have yet to see a credible outcome study demonstrating a 70% rate of remission. Improvement, yes, remission no. Even the worst program in the world is going to have a success rate above 5%, since an evaluation alone yields a success rate of 20-30%. We had a brief discussion about what "abuse" and "dependence" meant in DSM IV (ICD-9 doesn't have an abuse category.) I quoted various studies. None of this mattered. He "respectfully" disagreed. He said he would "take my input under advisement," obviously meaning forget about it as soon as he could get me off the phone. True to form, I received a follow up email saying he'd "appreciated my input" but also that he basically didn't want anything to do with me, since they didn't fit my "model" nor would they be likely to in the future. Since the only "model" I discussed was adhering to scientifically supportable assertions, I have to conclude he decided that no, he didn't want to be held to that standard. In other words, he wanted to say whatever he wanted to, whether it was scientifically supportable or not. What mattered was not the truth, but rather his "model." "Model" and "Philosophy" are two of the most destructive concepts in addiction treatment today. I'll have more to say about this in a future blog. There are so many "programs" out there that provide "miraculous cures" for addiction already. We don't need more. Nutrition therapy, yoga, SPECT scans, yada, yada, yada! Miraculous pharmacotherapy (remember PROMETA anyone?) 12-step programs engage in a more subtle form of this, providing the same treatment over and over again even when it has been proved ineffective. We don't need yet another one. What's needed is straight talk about what we know works, how well (or not) it works, and how best to provide it. We don't need 12-step alternatives that are based on someone's "model" or "philosophy." We need consumer choice based on science and professionalism. The fact is, our treatments for addiction are only partially effective. In many cases they don't work at all. This is how it is in medicine and virtually all other human affairs. Let's face up to this. What's needed is more research, not more unsupportable claims. MW

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