Ten Percent in Recovery – NOT

Here’s the headline at Partnership for a Drug-Free America:

Survey: Ten Percent of American Adults Report Being in Recovery from Substance Abuse or Addiction

Very interesting news, right?

How did they arrive at that number? With a poll that asks, “Did you once have a problem with drugs or alcohol, but no longer do?”

Choose you evidence carefully by rocket ship
Choose you evidence carefully by rocket ship

Does that measure recovery? I don’t think so.

Recovery has traditionally described achieving abstinence after a severe and persistent substance use problem characterized by loss of control over use. There has been a push to expand the definition to include people who moderate. This question would catch those people. I’m not too concerned about that.

What does concern me is that there are lots (and lots) of people who have a time-limited episode of substance use problems and moderate or stop once they have reason to. Say, a college student who parties too hard his freshman year and moderates or quits once they are confronted with the possibility of flunking out.  Or, how about a pain patient who starts using more than the prescribed dose, running out of prescriptions before the end of the month and doctor shops to get more to avoid withdrawal? He/She finally talk about the problem with their doc and come up with a new pain management plan. Are these people in recovery? I don’t think so. Would they answer yes to the question above? Probably.

I’m all for normalizing recovery, but the message of this article is misleading. The question they used doesn’t really tell me how many people are in “recovery”.


The Senate's side of the Capitol Building in DC.
The Senate’s side of the Capitol Building in DC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From the United States Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control:

11. Finding: Traditionally, U.S. Presidents – through ONDCP – have divided drug demand reduction into two main categories: prevention and treatment. However, the Obama Administration has added a third area: recovery. For the first time ever, in its 2010 National Drug Control Strategy, ONDCP focused on the need to invest in recovery. Treatment for drug abusers usually takes place during a fixed period of time. However, recovery is a lifelong process.

Recommendation: The private sector should foster the development of businesses that positively affect the lives of people in  recovery by increasing employment opportunities for them.

12. Finding: Residential treatment is a commonly used form of treatment. However, many states are facing a shortage of residential treatment beds. The shortage of beds is especially true for women with children seeking treatment. Last year, there were only 80 family-based treatment programs in the United States. Many of these programs have limits on the age of children women can bring with them as they receive treatment, further limiting access to care for women with children. The federal government does not have a precise measure for determining the shortage of residential drug treatment spaces.

SAMHSA administers a survey – the National Survey on Substance Abuse Treatment Services – of specialty treatment facilities, including residential facilities. This survey includes questions to determine the proportion of facilities that offer residential services and the number of beds available in such facilities. However, the survey is not able to provide an estimate of the demand for these beds. Most facilities do not track and record such information.

Recommendation: Across the country, there needs to be real time reporting on the demand for beds in residential treatment. There also needs to be a more rapid response in areas with bed shortages to ensure treatment is available when individuals request it.

13. Finding: Residential treatment programs are costly which often leads to individuals not receiving long enough treatment to stop their substance abuse dependency. Some residential treatment programs, such as the Delancey Street Foundation, are self-funded. The Delancey Street Foundation sustains itself by the work of residents who live on the premises and complete work in areas such as catering, holiday decor and moving services.

Recommendation: In the current difficult fiscal climate, residential treatment programs should look to the Delancey Street Foundation as a possible funding model that is self-sustaining without relying on federal,  state and local funds.

Sound familiar?

[Thanks Matt]