Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

In Support of Abstinence: Harm Reduction Ultimately Fails to Improve the Quality of Life for People with Addictions

Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

In Support of Abstinence: Harm Reduction Ultimately Fails to Improve the Quality of Life for People with Addictions

Article excerpt

Many visitors to Caron Treatment Centers' main campus in Pennsylvania remark about a sign in the admissions area that says "If you want to drink--that's your business! If you want to stop drinking that's our business!" This is the driving principle upon which Dick and Catherine Caron founded Chit Chat Farms (today known as Caron Treatment Centers) 50 years ago. Today, we continue to uphold the values of our founders to do the right thing by providing hope for people affected by the disease of chemical dependency. As the president and CEO of Caron, I have the privilege of seeing how a successful recovery can impact a patient and his/her family. Through sobriety, patients and their families realize dreams that were once inconceivable.

At Caron, we do understand that harm reduction has its place in modern society--that needle exchanges or opiate maintenance regimes may help prevent the spread of diseases such as hepatitis C and HIV. However, we also know that for the true addict, moderation-based treatments are not a solution. Society is too eager to accept harm reduction as an alternative approach to healthcare for a chronic illness. In reality, we should strive to create a better system in which all people have a true opportunity to receive treatment for the disease of addiction and begin a new and sober life.

There are three key elements of harm reduction that I believe are highly problematic. First, research shows abstinence-based programs are much more supportive and successful for long-term recovery than harm reduction initiatives because they provide patients with skills to start a new life and also treat the family system. In fact, a person on methadone might have some counseling, but he is more likely to get the drugs he needs from a clinic and leave. True, he may no longer be actively abusing heroin. However, he probably has not learned about the biologic, medical, social, and psychological factors that contribute to his addiction. He probably also hasn't developed a foundation or support system to live a healthier life or worked with family members to start their own healing process. Thus, methadone alone isn't enough to fully address heroin addiction and is not a long-term solution. …

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