Methamphetamine and the length of program
Methamphetamine abusers do not necessarily require specialized treatment, but do need more time in intensive residential drug treatment programs than they generally receive under current practices.
University of Iowa researchers made the recommendation for longer treatment for meth abusers and identified regions of research that could help improve treatment, including retention and new drug therapies.
“In reviewing studies we discovered that treatment does work if you can give individuals sufficient access to treatment,” said James Hall, Ph.D., UI associate professor of pediatrics, social work, public health and nursing and one of the review authors. “We were worried that meth users would need a special care ward or other special setting, but at least based on the data we reviewed, that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
“What seems to make a difference is time. Meth effects can last up to six months for a single use, and the drug can do more important damage to an individual’s physical, behavioral and thinking functions than many other illicit drugs or alcohol,” Hall wrote. “This is why it takes much longer to treat an individual with a meth addiction than it does to treat someone with a cocaine or heroin problem. This time factor is also one reason why so many meth treatments presently fail.”
The majority of adult residential drug treatment programs have been shortened in recent years from 45 or 30 days to only 10 to 14 because of modifications in the insurance industry. “The issue is even worse for teenagers. Residential treatment programs for that age group have “dried up” because of budget cuts,” Hall said.
Two Weeks Not Enough
“If you are a chronic meth user, you will need more time to detox before you can even accept the treatments, which are very cognitive,” he said. “We don’t know exactly how long is required, but we do know the present two-week time isn’t sufficient. Likely, a minimum of 30 days of residential treatment allows the meth abuser to regain essential thinking and decision-making skills.”
Hall said researchers need to determine what residential treatment length would be effective for meth users prior to using outpatient care.
Treatment Instead of Imprisonment
“The majority of state and insurance programs will not pay for treatment beyond two weeks, so even if a medical need is confirmed by a physician, funding needs also must be addressed,” Hall said.
“The emphasis on dealing with meth use has been punishment and imprisonment, but we might do well as a society to reserve prison for those who are involved in illegal drug sales or violence and support rehabilitation for abusers,” Hall said.
SOURCE: Hall’s review article appeared in the April 2003 issue of the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.