There is no doubt that mental health and addiction has already migrated from public safety to a public health issue. Former Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse Dr. Alan I. Leshner assures that drug addiction is, in fact, a brain illness that affects the individual both on a physiological and mental level. So, it needs to be treated like an illness. However, the most popular treatment of this disease not only does not help the patient overcome their condition, but creates another, more crippling and expensive, addiction. This is, of course, drug replacement therapy.
The corner stone of drug replacement therapy (or DRT) is the idea that there is a need the body has after it has been stimulated with narcotics for a long period. This need is then satisfied by the consumption of prescription drugs. This is clearly a purely palliative course, usually in disregard of the individual’s mental health. Although it is evident the physical component of addiction in a person’s body, it is also important to treat its mental component. There needs to be some management and improvement of mental health to achieve a full recovery, otherwise is just changing one addiction for another. Recently, alternatives have been proposed for DRT, some of them with encouraging results.
One study that has provided proven results over the last two decades in the United Kingdom is abstinence-based therapy (or ABT) with a heavy psychological component. Developed in 1949 at Willmar State Hospital, ABT for addiction is based on a similar principle to that of DRT, except that it uses mechanisms of counsel and emotional support to cope with the compulsion of taking drugs.
The reader may recognize these are also the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous that have been around since the 1930s. The success of that organization speaks for itself. Besides a procedure similar to a twelve-step program, ABT includes residential internment and treatment, consisting mainly of group therapy, lectures and patient-to-patient interaction. This allows the patient to build an emotional system on which to rely and improve his emotional mental health, allowing them to recover and move forward with their lives.
As the award-winning director of the Burton Addiction Center, Noreen Oliver puts it, the way to move forward is not the product of a threat made to a person punitively, but a chance to have many healthy opportunities available to them. Her experience, up to date, has shown amazing results for an approach oriented towards mental health rather than just treating the consequences addiction has on the body.
The debate over the effectiveness of drug replacement therapy has been going for decades, And although there have been some recent advances in the legislation surrounding prescription drugs, legal drug addiction is also a rising concern that can not be ignored and needs to be addressed in the very near future. Because, what is the point of getting someone off one drug if he gets addicted to another? It should be more beneficial to treat his mental health issues to make sure his life can take a permanent turn for the better.