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Intensive Substance-Abuse Treatment Fails to Deliver Better Results: Study

But researcher isn't ready to give up on the multi-pronged approach
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WebMD News from HealthDay

By Steven Reinberg

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Sept. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Treating drug and alcohol addiction with a concentrated approach called chronic care management may be no more effective than a single medical appointment and addiction referral, according to a new study.

Results of the year-long study are likely to disappoint those who believe treating addiction more like a chronic disease -- with a systematic approach and follow-up -- is the better way to go.

"We were completely surprised by the result," said lead researcher Dr. Richard Saitz, a Boston University professor of medicine and epidemiology. "We put everything into this, and we were surprised that even doing that didn't lead to differences compared to not doing any of it."

In the study of nearly 600 adult substance abusers, those receiving chronic care management got intensive medical care at a primary-care clinic plus relapse-prevention counseling and addiction and psychiatric treatment. Others in the study had one medical visit at which they received a list of addiction-treatment resources.

After 12 months, 44 percent of those in the chronic care management group had stopped drinking or using drugs, as did 42 percent of those not receiving intensive care, the researchers said.

Despite these similar findings, Saitz said he still believes chronic care management can be useful for some addictions. However, "we don't want people to assume that it's going to be effective when applied everywhere for every person," he said.

More work is needed to determine the best way to use chronic care management and to identify those who will benefit most from the approach, he said.

"We have to recognize that people with drug or alcohol addictions may be different and it's not one monolithic disorder," Saitz said. "I do think that integrated chronic care management, in the future, is going to be efficacious for people with addictions."

The report was published in the Sept. 18 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Advocates of chronic care management point out that many substance abusers suffer serious health consequences but receive poor care. By addressing medical, emotional and dependence issues in a coordinated manner, patients would achieve better results, the thinking goes.

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