will you know if an addiction program is any good?
As you or your loved one searches for a reputable substance use treatment
program, remember that you are employing them and should conduct an interview
just as you would with an individual you plan to hire in your company.
effective help for an alcohol or other drug disorders starts with reliable and
valid screening for the range of substance use disorders and related
conditions, as well as physical and mental health conditions.
program receives funding from the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental
Health, then the program must use criteria from the American Society of
Addiction Medicine (ASAM) to determine the best level of care to begin treatment. You can find out more about ASAM by following
this link: www.asam.org/resources/the-asam-criteria/about. ASAM
criteria are not used just when your loved one first enters treatment, but are
designed to be used continually during treatment. How your loved one is rated
on the ASAM criteria determines when your loved one is able to enter into a
lower level of care, meaning less treatment hours, or enter into a higher level
of care, meaning more treatment hours.
If the program requires that your loved one complete certain assignments
before moving to a lower level of care, this should be a red flag because no
matter how much the program may try to convince you, the program is not based
on ASAM. A program that requires
assignments to be completed before your loved one can progress is referred to
as “program driven” and is not individualized (discussed further down) no
matter how much they try to convince you otherwise.
detected, more in-depth comprehensive measurements are needed that assess substance
use history and related disorders, as well as medical, psychiatric
history and individuals’ family and social networks, and available recovery
resources. Careful and comprehensive assessment can help prevent missing or
minimizing important aspects of a person’s life, inattention to which, could
compromise the chances of recovery.
your loved one has a heroin or opioid addiction (i.e., pain pills), does the
program teach her/him about naloxone and teach them how to use it? Naloxone is a great medication that should your
loved one overdose, can counter the effects of the overdose if given soon
enough. You can read more about naloxone
and here: https://naloxone.utah.gov/. Since the drop-out rate is high for those in
substance use treatment, this needs to be done very soon after admission.
does that program do when other issues are found other than substance use?
addition to substance use disorders patients in treatment may have co-occurring
psychiatric disorders, like depression
and anxiety, as well as other medical problems like hepatitis C, alcoholic
liver disease, or sexually transmitted diseases. Programs incorporating
comprehensive approaches that directly address these additional concerns, or
otherwise assertively link patients to needed services, improves the likelihood
of substance use disorder remission.
should be a red flag if the program just suggests or tells the client to go see
Dr. “X”. The successful program will
have a case manager that not only helps your loved get the needed appointment
but will follow-up to ensure your loved one attends the appointment. The case manager might also obtain
information from the attended appointment, with your loved one’s permission, if
it will help them in substance use treatment.
your loved one has completed the program, what ongoing services are offered? At a minimum there needs to be an ongoing
group either offered though the program or one to who they readily refer. This group can have many names but it is held
at least weekly and is a place for your loved one to receive continued support
while being fairly independent from treatment.
It can be either staff or client run, but if the latter needs to have
some type of overall staff supervision.
your loved one leave the program before completion, prior to leaving what does
the program do to help your loved one enter into a different program? Things to look for include not just making a
referral to “X” program, but contacting “X” program with your loved one and
arranging for an intake. This is
referred to as a “warm hand-off.”
Programs that are willing to keep your loved one until there is an
opening at the new treatment facility, if your loved one is willing to stay,
deserve extra consideration.
of the reason your loved one leaves the program, including successful
completion, if your loved one has a heroin or opioid addiction (i.e., pain
pills), does the program give them naloxone and teach them how use it?
care is essential to provide recovery-specific social support and necessary
recovery support services after the patient transitions from the initial phase
of care. Programs that strongly emphasize this continuing care aspect and that
provide assertive linkages (not just passive referral) to community resources,
on-going health care providers, peer-support groups, and recovery residences,
tend to produce substantially better outcomes.
the environment feel welcoming when you visit?
If it feels hectic or chaotic, chances are that is how it usually is vs.
“just having a bad day.”
the program employ Certified Peer Specialists?
While it can be a help to have therapists or substance use counselors who
are in recovery, this is not the same as having a Certified Peer Specialist. These are individuals who not only are in
recovery, but have had specific training to be a Peer Specialist. They can act as special advocates for your
things to consider include how are you greeted when you visit? Also, purposefully leave a voicemail and see
how quickly the program calls you back.
If you can talk to some of the clients about how they feel about the
program that could also be useful.
treatment program should possess at least the same type of quality environment
as one might see in other medical environments (e.g., oncology or diabetes
care). It does not need to contain chandeliers and oriental rugs, but should be
clean, bright, cheerful, and comfortable. Creating a respectful and dignified
environment can help addiction patients, in particular, who often feel as if
they’ve lost their own self-respect and dignity, regain it.
program utilizes “shaming” as a therapeutic intervention, this should be a red
flag. Shaming involves purposefully
making our loved one feel guilty about what they have done. Though they may not show it, most likely your
loved one already feels an extreme amount of guilt. Instead, the program should be helping your
loved one deal with the guilt they have and how they can remedy their guilt.
are already aware, substance use affects everyone around the person using
substances. While it may be a few weeks
before this takes place, involving immediate family such as the significant
other and children is crucial.
Additionally, if you or your loved one desires it, will they involve
extended family who have been affected by your loved one’s substance use. While it is very important to deal with this
while your loved one is in treatment, if your loved one has been in residential
treatment (meaning living at the facility full-time while in treatment),
everyone needs to be prepared for having your loved one back home. It is a complicated transition and NOT just a
matter of having your loved one back home.
If your loved one has been in outpatient treatment (meaning living
independently while attending treatment), then the family needs to understand
the changes your loved one is making and how you can best support him/her in
their treatment and recovery. Because substance use does affect everyone around
the person, everyone may have unknowingly developed ways of behaving that
perhaps were useful while your loved one used substances, but are no longer
useful now that your loved one is no longer using substances.
significant others in the person’s life in treatment increases the likelihood
that the patient will stay in treatment and that treatment gains will be
sustained after treatment has ended.
Techniques to clarify family roles, re-frame behavior, teach management
skills, encourage interventions, and access community services all help
strengthen the entire family system and help family members cope with, and
adjust to, the family system changes that occur in recovery.
the facility talk about and use “Recovery Capital” and know its benefits? This will be crucial during and after
treatment. You can read more about it
(This author, William White, is considered among the best in the substance use
from addiction within the first month of care is around 50% nationally. Because
those who dropout tend to have worse outcomes, it is vital to employ strategies
to enhance engagement and retention. These include creating an atmosphere of
mutual trust through clear communication and transparency of program rules,
regulations, and expectations. Also, by providing empathic counseling
and motivational incentives that reward patients for continued attendance and
abstinence/reductions in substance use.
that deliver services founded on scientific research and principles and that
are delivering the available “best practices” tend to have better outcomes. This
is referred to as evidenced-based practice or evidence-based treatment. In addition to psychological interventions,
these should include accessibility to FDA approved medications for addiction (e.g.,
buprenorphine/naloxone, methadone, naltrexone/depot naltrexone, Acamprosate (link is
external)) as well as psychotropic medication
for other types of psychiatric conditions (e.g., SSRIs
etc.).This is typically combined with qualified staff (see below).
what specific evidence-based practices (EBP) the program uses. Stay away from generic program descriptions
or a “one-size fits all” type of program.
There are hundreds or EBPs. Find
out the specific name of the EBP and then you can look at this website that is
officially responsible to approve all EBPs: https://nrepp.samhsa.gov/AdvancedSearch.aspx. If it is not listed there, tell them you went
to SAMHSA (pronounced “SAM-SA”) and could not find it. If they do not know what SAMHSA is without you
explaining it, that should be a red flag.
You should also ask what they do to ensure the EBP is done in a way that
it is meant to be (commonly stated as “done to fidelity”). Every EBP has different requirements, but the
answer should be something that demonstrates they are aware of the
requirements. If the program happens to
say “we follow all the requirements”, ask what those requirements are.
are the qualifications of the staff? Staff need to be licensed by the Utah
Department of Professional and Occupational Licensing. You can check if any disciplinary action has
been taken against any licensed person here: https://dopl.utah.gov/orders/index.html.
specific training have staff received?
All licensed staff will have completed requirements to graduate from
school. Do not settle for this as an
answer. Ask about specific training staff
have received since graduation and then do a google search to find out more
about that training. And ask how long staff have been out of school. If recent, ask them for specific details as
to how staff are supervised. At a
minimum, there needs to be weekly, face-to-face supervision and the supervisor
should be available to answer questions from the supervisee on an informal
basis during the week.
multi-disciplinary staff (e.g., addiction, medicine, psychiatry, spirituality)
can help patients uncover and address a broad array of needs that can aid
addiction recovery and improve functioning and psychological well-being.
Staff with adequate certification/licensing or board certification in these
specialty areas are indicators of higher quality programs.
Clinical supervision and team
meetings should take place at least once or twice a week for outpatient
programs and three to five times a week for residential and inpatient programs.
from individualized comprehensive screening and assessment, programs should
treat all patients as individuals attending to their needs accordingly,
recognizing the potentially different needs of men and women and those from
different communities (LGBT) or cultural backgrounds.
part of this, each client needs to have an individualized treatment plan. This means the therapist sits down with your
loved one and discusses the goals your loved one wants to accomplish while in
treatment. These goals need to be on the treatment plan. A program that tells the client what their
goals are should be a red flag. Every
client is to be given a copy of their treatment plan and so you can always ask
your loved one to see it.
treatment needs to be individualized.
While it is not pragmatic to have specialized groups for every single
client, it is a red flag if everyone needs to attend the same groups in order
to complete the program. Example: Anger management is a commonly offered group,
but perhaps your loved one does not have an anger issue. If so, your loved one should not be required
to attend this group.
no one knows your loved one better than you.
Perhaps s/he has experienced trauma.
Ask if the program gives trauma-informed care and what this specifically
means. You can find out more about
trauma-informed care here https://www.samhsa.gov/nctic/trauma-interventions.
perhaps your loved one has a heroin or opioid (i.e., pain pill) addictions and
wants to be on a medicine that will be helpful.
The research is very strong that those with this type of addiction
typically are more successful than those who do not use these medications. Some of the more commonly used FDA approved medications are buprenorphine/naloxone, methadone,
naltrexone/depot naltrexone, and Acamprosate (link is external). This is known as “Medication Assisted
Treatment” or “MAT”. It is a red flag if
the program is against MAT. At no time
should your loved one be forced to end MAT, including when they first enter the
program if they have already started MAT.
further indicator of quality treatment is having reliable, valid measurement
systems in place to track patients’ response to treatment. Similar to
regular assessment of blood pressure at each point of care in the treatment of
hypertension, addiction treatment programs should collect “addiction and mental
health vital signs” in order to monitor the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of
the individualized treatment plan and adjust it accordingly when needed.
Without any kind of standardized metrics it is difficult to document and
demonstrate patients’ progress.
can include, but not be limited to, scores on validated tests which show if a
client is improving or getting worse, obtaining employment, not detecting any
drugs when given a urine analysis (UA) test, your loved one’s compliance with
court and paying fines, any new arrests while in treatment, and obtaining
external regulatory organizations such as the Joint Commission on Accreditation
of Healthcare organizations (JCAHO; aka “the Joint Commission”), the Commission
on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), and the Council on
Accreditation (COA); and programs which are licensed by the state tend to have
higher quality care as they must contain minimal levels of evidence-based care.
this external accreditation is not a requirement to become a provider of
substance use treatment, it does mean that the provider is under additional
scrutiny to comply with specific industry standards.