Precovery

Bill White introduces a new concept, precovery:

Precovery involves several simultaneous processes:  physical depletion of the drug’s once esteemed value, cognitive disillusionment with the using lifestyle (a “crystallization of discontent” resulting from a pro/con analysis of “the life”), growing emotional distress and self-repugnance, spiritual hunger for greater meaning and purpose in life, breakthroughs in perception of self and world, and (perhaps most catalytic in terms of reaching the recovery initiation tipping point) exposure to recovery carriers–people who offer living proof of the potential for a meaningful life in long-term recovery.  These precovery processes reflect a combustive collision between pain and hope.

Unfortunately, it can often take decades for these processes to unfold naturally.  If there is a conceptual breakthrough of note in addictions field in recent years, it is that such processes can be strategically stimulated and accelerated.  Today, enormous efforts are being expended to accelerate precovery processes for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and other chronic disorders.  We as a culture are not waiting for people to seek help at the latest stages of these disorders at a time their painful and potentially fatal consequences can no longer be ignored.  We are identifying these disorders early, engaging those with these disorders in assertive treatment and sustained recovery monitoring and support processes.  Isn’t it time we did the same for addiction?

This made me think of Debra Jay and her efforts to continue refining, improving and expanding the role of family interventions.

Recovery capital and capital

blindjusticeartFrom the UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs second report of the recovery committee [emphasis mine]:

…our optimism about recovery should be tempered. Evidence suggests that different groups are more or less likely to achieve recovery outcomes. For some people, with high levels of recovery capital (e.g. good education, secure positive relationships, a job), recovery may be easier. For others, with little recovery capital or dependent on some types of drugs (especially heroin), recovery can be much more difficult and many will not be able to achieve substantial recovery outcomes.

It’s great that people are discussing recovery and looking at outcomes, but I have a few important concerns.

At what point does recovery capital become a proxy for class?

I’m increasingly concerned that recovery capital is becoming a proxy for social class. Whenever I discuss health professional outcomes, the typical response is something like, “Yeah, well, they have a lot more recovery capital than most opiate addicts.” The implication is that health professionals (and people like them) are capable of achieving drug-free full recovery while other opiate addicts are not. This is particularly troubling as maintenance becomes the de facto treatment for opiate addiction and significant financial resources become more important for accessing drug-free treatment of adequate duration and intensity. (Like health professionals get.)

This question brings John Rawls and his “original position” to mind.

In the original position, the parties select principles that will determine the basic structure of the society they will live in. This choice is made from behind a veil of ignorance, which would deprive participants of information about their particular characteristics: his or her ethnicity, social status, gender and, crucially, Conception of the Good (an individual’s idea of how to lead a good life). This forces participants to select principles impartially and rationally.

We have a situation where the experts provide one kind of treatment to their peers and another kind of treatment to the rest of their patients. If these experts had to assume the original position and operate from behind the veil of ignorance–if they were to be reborn an addict of unknown class, race, gender, economic status, etc–what would they want the de facto treatment to be?

If it’s not maintenance, then we have a social justice problem.

Evidence for what?

The other important question concerns the evidence. I have several questions about discussions about evidence.

Knowing laughter

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown describes “knowing laughter”

In I Thought It Was Just Me, I refer to the kind of laughter that helps us heal as knowing laughter. Laughter is a spiritual form of communing; without words we can say to one another, “I’m with you. I get it.”

True laughter is not the use of humor as self-deprecation or deflection; it’s not the kind of painful laughter we sometimes hide behind. Knowing laughter embodies the relief and connection we experience when we realize the power of sharing our stories—we’re not laughing at each other but with each other.

It reminds me of Ernie Kurtz’s writing about laughter at meetings

The laughter that takes place at an AA meeting is not laughter at the speaker, it is laughter at self. This is why it is so healing. Any genuine Twelve-Step meeting will have laughter, the humor that comes from the embrace of this image of imperfection.

What makes treatment effective?

This will be my post in response to the NY Times’ series on Suboxone.

This post originally ran on 7/19/13 and addressed a lot of our concerns.

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postcard---heroin-lie

I’ve been catching a lot of heat recently for posts about Suboxone and methadone. (For the sake of this post, lets refer to them as opioid replacement therapy, or ORT, for the rest of this post.

One commenter who blogs for an ORT provider challenged my arguments that we should offer everyone the same kind of treatment that we offer doctors and questioned the “it works” argument from ORT advocates. He dismissed the treatment model

Another commenter is an opiate addict who objected to a post about Hazelden’s announcement that they started providing ORT maintenance. She reported suffering greatly from cravings and relapsing after drug-free treatment at Hazelden. She’s been on Suboxone for 50 days and feels like it is a better solution for her.

Another post, that has nothing to do with me, blames abstinence-oriented treatment for the recent overdose death of an actor. (Among the other problems with the article are that she slanders abstinence-based treatment by suggesting that abuse is common. She misleads readers into thinking that ORT is not widely available when federal surveys find that ORT admissions accounted for 26% of all admissions. [Not 26% of opioid addiction admissions. 26% of all addiction treatment admissions.]

So, I thought I’d take a step back and try to address the big picture in one post.

The wrong paradigm?

Red_Drug_Pill---recoveryTo some extent, these arguments remind me of hearing Bill White comment on arguments about cognitive-behavioral therapy vs. motivational interviewing vs. 12 step facilitation. He commented that, “these are all arguments within the acute care paradigm.”

I talk often about the success of health professional recovery programs and their remarkable outcomes. What makes these programs so successful? I’d boil it down to a few factors:

  1. They are recovery-oriented. They treat patients with the expectation that they can fully recover and focus on facilitating and supporting recovery rather than just extinguishing symptoms of addiction.
  2. They have a chronic care model. They continue to provide care and support long after the acute stage of treatment (5 years). They also focus on lifestyle changes the will support recovery and look for ways to embed support for recovery in the patient’s environment.
  3. They provide adequate care. The provide multiple levels of high quality care of the appropriate intensity and duration at different stages of the patient’s recovery.

Many abstinence-oriented treatment providers have provided the first, but not the second and third. (Though one could argue that 12 step facilitation offers a long term recovery maintenance model.) They provide 10 days of inpatient care or 2 weeks of intensive outpatient and offer a passive referral to outpatient care. (Only 2% of all treatment admissions were for long term [more than 30 days] residential.) The end product looks something like a system that treats a heart attack with a few days or weeks of emergency care and then discharges the patient with no long term care plan. (Or, a weak long term care plan.) Then, we’re surprised when the patient has another cardiac event.

Many ORT providers have offered the second element, but not the first or third. The long term nature of ORT could be considered a chronic care model. However, the end product look something like palliative care for a treatable condition. It reduces opiate use (not necessarily other drug use), criminal activity and over dose. But these benefits are only realized as long as the patient is on ORT and drop-out rates are not low. And, ORT research has not been able to demonstrate the improvements in quality of life (employment, relationships, housing, life satisfaction, etc.) that we see in those health professionals who get all three elements. (Also note that opiate addicted health professionals often use VERY large doses and go undetected for long periods of time. Any neurological damage from their use does no appear to interfere with their achieving drug-free recovery in very impressive numbers.)

It’s effective!

photo credit: ntoper
photo credit: ntoper

One of the recurring arguments that I hear is that ORT is effective and there is tons of research that it’s effective. I don’t question that it’s effective at achieving some outcomes–reducing criminal activity, reducing opiate use and reducing overdose. If those are the only outcomes you care about, then you can say it’s effective without any qualifications.

Even with my bias for abstinence-oriented treatment, I can imagine circumstances where ORT might be the least bad option. (For example, if your child had been offered high quality treatment of adequate quality and duration more than once and they continue to relapse and be at high risk for fatal overdose.) A few weeks ago I offered an analogy that attempted to offer an approach to informed consent:

Maybe the choice is something like a person having incapacitating (socially, emotionally, occupationally, spiritually, etc.) and life-threatening but treatable cardiac disease. There are 2 treatments:

  1. A pill that will reduce death and symptoms, but will have marginal impact on QoL (quality of life). Relatively little is known about long term (years) compliance rates for this option, but we do know that discontinuation of the medication leads to “near universal relapse“, so getting off it is extremely difficult. The drug has some cognitive side-effects and may also have some emotional side effects. It is known to reduce risk of death, but not eliminate it.
  2. Diet and exercise can arrest all symptoms, prevent death and provide full recovery, returning the patient to a normal QoL. This is the option we use for medical professionals and they have great outcomes. Long-term compliance is the challenge and failure to comply is likely to result in relapse and may lead to death. However, we have lots of strategies and social support for making and maintaining these changes.

The catch is that you can’t do both because option 1 appears to interfere with the benefits of option 2.

Fixing treatment

Hazelden Monument2_2WEBHazelden’s adoption of ORT has provided fuel to a lot of these arguments.

Hazelden was confronted with poor outcomes for their opiate addicted patients. They saw a problem and decided to act.

One option would have been to declare that a 30 day model for opiate addiction treatment is doomed to fail and build a recovery-oriented, chronic care system that delivers high quality care of the appropriate intensity and duration.

ORT seems to be the easier response, particularly with the market and cultural currents flowing in that direction.

Bill White has argued that ORT can be compatible with a recovery orientation. I’m skeptical, but I’m watching and am willing to learn from any success they have.

However, if you can get what the doctor’s having, why would you want anything else? And, shouldn’t we want every patient to get the same kind of care the doctor would get if she were the patient? If you can’t get that, you’ve got some tough decisions to make.

I’m looking for others to implement the health professional model with others, finding ways to build upon it and make it less expensive, as we have.

UPDATE: In an email exchange with a friend who disagrees, I clarified Hazelden’s options, as I see them. If it were Dawn Farm, I’d imagine we’d look at things like:

  • improving our aftercare referral process–asking ourselves if we can make better active linkages to communities of recovery;
  • evaluating whether the intensity, duration and quality of our aftercare recommendations were appropriate;
  • embedding recovery coaching in cities around the country to provide assertive recovery support;
  • improving post-treatment recovery monitoring and re-intervention.

no hint of opinion here

SecondOpinion400

To me, the most important line in the NY Times Suboxone series was this one, “[Dr. Sullivan] considered opioid addiction “a hopeless disease'”.

We believe that maintenance approaches are rooted in the belief that most opiate addicts are not capable of recovering in the same manner that doctors recover.

Most of the arguments for maintenance treatments focus on reduced harm and its relative risks, very few focus on quality of life or achieving full recovery.

It’s also worth remembering that Suboxone compliance rates aren’t what they used to be.

The post below was originally published on 6/26/13. I decided to repost it to accompany the posts from the last few days.

*   *   *

From an article about a new report on medications for opiate treatment:

The report also examined studies that evaluated buprenorphine, methadone, injectable naltrexone, and oral naltrexone and concluded a benefit in patient outcomes as well as costs.

“I can say with no hint of opinion here, it’s simple fact, they are all effective,” McLellan said. “They’re effective not just in reducing opioid use, they’re effective in so many other ways that are important to societies and families.”

Effective. It’s a fact. No opinion here. Hmmm.

Effective at what? These drugs are effective at reducing opiate use. If that outcome is all one wants, they may be a good option.

The problem is that it’s a palliative response, when we know that full recovery is possible if the right resources are made available. (Of course these treatment approaches are not the ones physicians choose for themselves and their peers.)

Let’s see what the report says about another outcome that might speak more directly to quality of life, say, employment [emphasis mine]:

These studies have also measured various types of related outcomes such as reductions non-opioid drug use, employment and criminal activity. Here the literature is quite mixed and appears to be a result of the particular patient population, the clinical approach of the methadone maintenance program and the available counseling and social services provided.

and

As with methadone, the literature is quite mixed with regard to reducing non-opioid drug use, improving employment and reducing crime.

and

He also found improvements within the methadone maintenance group across various time periods on HIV risk behaviors, employment and criminal justice involvement. [My note: In this study, employment increased from approximately 21% to approximately 31%.]

So…while there’s little doubt that these medications reduce opiate use and overdose deaths, the quality of life evidence is considerably weaker.

With the increases in opiate ODs, I understand families and individuals struggling with these decisions. I struggle to come up with the best analogy for informed consent. Maybe something like this?

Maybe the choice is something like a person having incapacitating (socially, emotionally, occupationally, spiritually, etc.) and life-threatening but treatable cardiac disease. There are 2 treatments:

  1. A pill that will reduce death and symptoms, but will have marginal impact on QoL (quality of life). Relatively little is known about long term (years) compliance rates for this option, but we do know that discontinuation of the medication leads to “near universal relapse“, so getting off it is extremely difficult. The drug has some cognitive side-effects and may also have some emotional side effects. It is known to reduce risk of death, but not eliminate it.
  2. Diet and exercise can arrest all symptoms, prevent death and provide full recovery, returning the patient to a normal QoL. This is the option we use for medical professionals and they have great outcomes. Long-term compliance is the challenge and failure to comply is likely to result in relapse and may lead to death. However, we have lots of strategies and social support for making and maintaining these changes.

The catch is that you can’t do both because option 1 appears to interfere with the benefits of option 2.

NYT Reax

SecondOpinion400This blog has a point of view. We’re not fans of maintenance. (Though we still think Suboxone can be a very useful detox tool.)

If you want to read defenses of Suboxone, you can find a couple here:

The best critical response is from addictiondoctor.org, though he’s not making a recovery argument. He’s really making a harm reduction argument.

It’s key to remember that there is an epidemic of opioid overdose deaths in this country largely fueled by the unrestricted access to long active high potency full opioid agonists in “pain clinics” around the country. It’s strikingly ironic that in the midst of this, there is controversy about a long acting partial agonist that is much safer and has been used in hundreds of thousands of people to stop the compulsive use. What is even more ironic is that the use of Suboxone is limited while any physician can prescribe nearly limitless quantities of the more deadly full opioid agonists.

The NY Times published a few reactions to its Suboxone series.

There were a couple of letters from physicians writing in support of Suboxone.

There was also a letter from a recovering person.

Thank you for exposing the dark side of the recovery and pharmaceutical industries’ approach to addiction. I’m dropping my own anonymity today.

It took me 14 years of fits and starts to finally earn a decade of continuous sobriety. To stay sober I need four meetings a week.

I see buprenorphine sweeping through the recovery population. It’s obvious that newbies and kids are suffering from it the most.

And, a physician who used to be a fan, but is no longer.

As one of the earliest of the Pennsylvania physicians approved to prescribe buprenorphine, I was part of a wave of optimism. After decades of helping addiction patients struggle to save their lives, I was initially quite heartened with the results of buprenorphine. Now, the “bloom is off the rose” as I, too, see the patterns of abuse and diversion.

There were lots of reader comments that were positive and negative about Suboxone. Here’s one that captures what we hear from a lot of addicts and families seeking help getting off of Suboxone:

My son has been an opiate addict for years. Through countless detoxes and rehabilitations he found himself on suboxone. What isn’t discussed is that this is a controlled substance that is hardest of all to withdraw from. It is an opiate. My son on suboxone continued addict-type behavior. Sure, he was functioning a bit better but not good enough. He was listless, with no attention span and without any sense of urgency to taking care of himself. My wife and I realized this is a pervasive horrible substitute for sobriety and we told my son we would not support it any longer. He still struggles to find a lasting sobriety. Opiate addiction is all the evils everyone talks about and I don’t need to repeat them. But suboxone is not the answer to finding true sobriety. Doctors are too keen to provide this as a solution but it continues one’s addiction not only to the opiate but to the behaviour that si typical of addicts. We pray and continue to support ways to help my son find a true sobriety, but one opiate substitute for another is not the answer.

Here’s a comment from our facebook page:

Suboxone is perfect for keeping the addict trapped in the dark place of turmoil that so many of us are in when we are first clean. I’m not sick but I still need a steady supply of drugs just to sleep. I have no healthy ego because my life still sucks and no coping skills outside of self destructive survival behaviors that kept me alive on the street. The addict eventually has to choose between a life with little to no quality or one where they have the relief of temporary highs. You can’t get off drugs by staying on drugs. Suboxone is no different than when I got off heroin and methadone In 97 and then spent 17 yrs drinking myself to death culminating in a suicide before getting sober last year. I was off the “bad drugs”And on the one that’s acceptable.

a spectrum of apples, oranges, lemons, plums?

DSM_5_2Howard Wetsman picks apart the spectrum approach of the DSM5

Making a spectrum out of the illnesses that have been put in the substance use category of DSM IV is like making a spectrum out of an apple, an orange, a lemon, a lime, a blue fruit (if there was one) and a plum. You’d have the colors but your mixing different things. Sometimes a metaphor can be taken too far.

First there is the assumption that the substance use disorders actually hold together and are separate from other disorders in the DSM. It is an assumption and not one that is supported by the evidence of recent studies. DSM is concerned with behavior, not with biology. Illness is biology from which behavior can manifest, but it’s the biology that comes first. So before we look at the substance use disorders and say they can be made into a spectrum we have to see if they are separate from other things that look like addiction (overeating, compulsive sex, compulsive gambling, etc.) and are the same as each other (that substance abuse is the same as addiction, only less of a problem).

The evidence I’ve seen suggests that it can’t be done. Biologically, addiction to opioids and addiction to sugar binging have more in common than addiction to opioids and abuse of opioids. There are a lot of reasons that people with normal brains choose to do stupid things with drugs, but there’s a real commonality about why people with addiction use. That commonality extends beyond drugs to anything that makes the reward system go “Bam.” When we try to put people with normal brains who abuse substances in addiction treatment they don’t understand what we’re talking about. When we try to put addicts in treatment with people with normal brains they get confused and try to “use like a normal person.”

Read the rest of the post here.