How do we make recovery not just a possibility, but the expected outcome of addiction treatment?
This was a question thought leaders sought to answer at a 2013 symposium held at the Institute for Behavior and Health, Inc. What stemmed from this conversation was a new perspective on addiction recovery, one that focused on long-term monitoring as a means of achieving lifelong recovery.
For the last 40 years, this strategy, known as “New Paradigm for Recovery,” has been used to monitor individuals working in at-risk occupations – including physicians, airline pilots and, more recently, lawyers – and outcomes have been stellar. After witnessing these excellent results among licensed professionals, addiction treatment specialists have started to integrate this methodology into their programs as a means of promoting long-term sobriety after discharge.
What makes the New Paradigm for Recovery unique is that it treats and manages substance abuse disorders like chronic illnesses. Beginning with an initial assessment, the approach combines formal treatment with a monitoring agreement, which provides the leverage needed to stay sober. Monitoring agreements will include regular drug and alcohol tests and, if substances are detected, appropriate actions are taken based on the agreement. To make routine long-term monitoring as effective and convenient as possible, many treatment professionals choose remote monitoring systems, like Soberlink, for their clients. Unlike traditional methods of testing, such as urine screenings, these discreet and affordable devices can be used anytime, anywhere, keeping alcohol recovery top-of-mind following treatment.
In addition to addiction treatment, physician programs, specifically, have seen tremendous outcomes through long-term monitoring. A 2008 study published in The BMJ called Five year outcomes in a cohort study of physicians treated for substance use disorders in the United States outlines the history of these licensed professional programs, which were initially created by volunteer physicians who wanted to provide their cohort with support for substance abuse and mental health conditions. These volunteer groups soon developed into professional health programs tasked with promoting sobriety through “early detection, treatment and monitoring of substance use.”
One of the study’s head researchers, Dr. Gregory Skipper, medical director at the Center for Professional Recovery, was curious to learn how physician health programs differed from state to state. “Everybody thought these programs probably had good outcomes, but nobody knew for sure,” said Dr. Skipper. “We wanted to study them to prove how they were set up, what they do and if they work.” What resulted was a comprehensive study – known by industry insiders as “The Blueprint Study” – that outlined the innerworkings and outcomes of professional health programs across country. Dr. Skipper and his team divided the project into two phases: Phase 1 determined which states had professional health programs and described operational components, such as staffing, funding and treatment specifics. Phase 2 uncovered the outcomes of these programs by analyzing data from doctors who had been in the program for at least five years.
The study’s final results showed that 79 percent of doctors in licensed professional programs remained completely abstinent of drugs and alcohol. Of the surveyed group, only 21 percent had at least one relapse. These statistics were groundbreaking, not only because they proved the success of licensed professional programs, but also because the success rate was much higher than traditional treatment programs. The average treatment program typically lasts 6 months or less and the rate of abstinence is only about 50 percent. Looking at the licensed professional programs’ nearly 80 percent success rate, there was clearly a discrepancy between treatment for licensed professionals and treatment for the general population.
So, what makes licensed professional programs so much more successful than general treatment programs? According to Dr. Skipper, it’s because licensed professional programs play the long game when it comes to addiction treatment: “With professional programs, the focus is more on the individual; assessing them thoroughly, seeing what they need and how they’re doing and making sure that they’re safe to graduate from treatment and go back to work. It’s more open-ended and oriented toward the individual’s needs.” While many treatment programs end at the 30-day mark, licensed professional programs require ongoing care and monitoring that lasts years after treatment. While these programs don’t necessarily treat physicians, they do provide evaluation, diagnosis and a contract detailing formal treatment, monitoring and ongoing professional support.
Dr. Skipper accredits alcohol monitoring tools, like Soberlink, with supporting accountability for sobriety and workplace compliance. According to Dr. Skipper, Soberlink is becoming a widely accepted means of monitoring licensed professions with a history of alcohol use disorder. Noting the system’s convenient, real-time monitoring and the documented proof of sobriety, Dr. Skipper believes that Soberlink is a helpful resource for preventing professional impairment: “Soberlink offers a convenient means of accountability, documentation of sobriety and early detection of relapse, should it occur. Being real-time offers the advantage that, before going to work, the individual, whether a pilot, surgeon or anyone in a safety sensitive role, can test prior to work (and, if needed, during work) to document their abstinence from alcohol use, thus offering protection to the public who are depending on that professional.”
In addition, Dr. Skipper also highlights the power of leverage in maintaining sobriety. Oftentimes, the motivation professionals need to get sober is the threat of losing their job. In developing a contingency monitoring program, professionals are presented with a contractual ultimatum designed to keep them accountable: continue to monitor your sobriety or lose your license.
Asking Dr. Skipper where he foresees the future of addiction treatment and recovery heading, he mentions his hopes for widespread contingency monitoring: “I believe, and hope, that increased used of contingency monitoring with active, good, long-term monitoring will improve outcomes.” – And, with alcohol monitoring systems, like Soberlink, that future is possible.
To learn how Soberlink can benefit your licensed professional treatment program, visit soberlink.com.