Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Clinics Pay Addicts to Stay Off Drugs

Jackson News-Tribune

NEW YORK - There are worse things you can do for money than stay off drugs. "And I‘ve done them, too," chuckled Allen Price, a 43-year-old methamphetamine addict from Oakland, Calif.

For five weeks since, he has trekked to a clinic several times a week to submit a urine sample, and pick up a few dollars for testing negative.

The idea of paying people to stay clean has caught on around the country amid a growing body of research indicating the practice can help keep addicts off drugs.

A study of 415 cocaine and methamphetamine users published last October in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that they stayed in treatment longer if they had a chance to win a prize.

"It can be a very powerful technique," she said. "If it increases their motivation to stay clean even a little, it‘s worth doing."

You can‘t buy cigarettes or alcohol with the vouchers. But almost anything else is OK — sneakers, CDs, an iPod. The catch is, if the patient tests positive, his or her next clean sample will be worth only the minimum, or $2.50.

"At first, it‘s sort of like,

Yeah, yeah. Whatever,‘" said Jessica, who participated in a program coordinated by Marsch in Burlington, Vt., when she was 18, and agreed to be interviewed on the condition that only her first name be used.

Over time, she earned enough to pay off some bills and buy a CD player.

"It turned out to be a big incentive," Petry said of her experiments, which have involved about 1,000 people.

It is unclear how successful such programs are in the long term. Almost all patients eventually have at least one relapse.

Jessica, now 21, stayed sober for seven months after completing Marsch‘s program but slipped hard once it ended. Within a few years, she had moved on to heroin.

Her latest treatment program, in which she takes methadone and attends Narcotics Anonymous meetings twice daily, has her feeling optimistic. She has been clean for a month.

"I feel like I‘m on the right track," she said.


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