This article originally appeared in
the Capital Gazette on January 12, 2020
Twelve years ago, one of our teenage daughters started drinking enough alcohol to possibly kill herself on a regular basis. Over the next five years, we repeatedly found ourselves in crisis situations where it was clear we needed to find treatment for her immediately. Each time, we were forced to make the life-and-death decision about which treatment center to send her to based on a chance comment someone had made and a conversation with a counselor who sounded nice, but could provide only vague generalities about the effectiveness of their treatment program.
We were extremely lucky. As a result of the excellent treatment she received, my daughter has been able to remain sober for more than six years and completely turn her life around. During this time, however, I’ve gotten to know far too many parents whose children are still struggling with the disease of addiction or have died.
The belief that parents searching for treatment shouldn’t have to rely on luck to find excellent programs started me on a multi-year quest. When I learned that addiction treatment providers didn’t have easy-to-use research tools to monitor how patients were progressing during treatment and learn what happened after they left, I created Vista Research Group, Inc. to provide them with cost-effective research.
Four years later, Vista has now monitored more than 23,000 patients during treatment at a wide variety of respected addiction treatment centers and followed up with thousands of them after discharge. Among many other positive findings, Vista’s research confirmed that most patients make a tremendous amount of progress during abstinence-based treatment and that many treatment programs across the country have excellent post-treatment success rates. Perhaps not surprisingly for a field that has not previously had a standard way to measure outcomes, the research also found a wide variation in effectiveness among treatment centers.
Vista’s research identifies 8 different factors that increase the likelihood that a treatment episode will start the patient on the road to recovery, several of which are under the patient’s or parent’s control. In addition to making sure to choose an effective treatment center, it is also critically important that patients complete all recommended treatment, remain in treatment for as long as possible (at least 20 days), and live in a sober living home and/or attend recovery support meetings (like AA, NA or Smart Recovery) for at least the first month after leaving treatment. Learnings From Three Years of Addiction Treatment Outcomes Research is the first major real-world addiction treatment outcomes research to be published since the mid-1990s, and is available for free at www.treatment-effectiveness.com.
To help families identify the most effective treatment centers, I’ve started a separate company, Conquer Addiction, Inc., to publicly recognize the treatment centers with the best success rates. As more treatment leaders recognize the importance to consumers of post-treatment outcomes research, we hope Conquer Addiction’s annual Excellence in Treatment awards will become an increasingly useful source of unbiased data for people searching for addiction treatment.
Just as excitingly, as the research expands to cover medication-assisted treatment facilities, I anticipate that the results will eventually be able to predict the specific type of addiction treatment most likely to help a particular person struggling with addiction to survive and recover. While it seems far-fetched today to think that we could predict the effectiveness of different addiction treatment options by taking an individual’s drug use history, demographic factors and, perhaps, co-occurring mental disorders into account, this sort of decision-making is, of course, standard practice for a wide variety of other diseases.
As we enter a new decade, it is truly exciting to see leaders in the addiction treatment industry start to develop the real-world data necessary to effectively tackle the horrible disease taking the lives of far too many of our children, spouses and friends.
Joanna Conti is the founder & CEO of Vista Research Group, Inc. and Conquer Addiction, Inc. In 2010, she was the Democratic candidate for Anne Arundel County Executive.