September 27, 1994
Media Contact:Michael Purdy
Phone: (410) 955-8725

Rewards like new tennis shoes or rent payments may be useful weapons in the war against drug addiction, according to a scientist at The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

In her studies, Kenzie Preston, Ph.D., gives a voucher redeemable for goods and services to addicts who test negative for drug use.

At the end of the first 12-week trial of the system, nearly half of the subjects had stayed free of cocaine for at least seven weeks. "The first study left us optimistic about the potential of this system as a treatment for cocaine users," Preston says of the results.

The idea behind the new system, Preston explains, is to build a firm and very real link between drug use and a negative consequence-loss of a voucher.

"There isn't always an intellectual tie between the taking of the drug and the negative consequences of each instance of drug use," Preston explains. "We're putting an immediate and concrete consequence on each individual drug use."

During her initial study, Preston gave one group vouchers for being drug-free and gave a second group vouchers regardless of drug-testing results.

Researchers gave subjects drug-screening tests three times a week to make certain they would catch any drug use. While subjects in the study could determine what they wanted to buy with their vouchers, their purchases were subject to final approval by the researchers.

"We've bought clothes, tennis shoes and tires, and put deposits on apartments for our subjects," says Preston. "We've also paid medical bills and lawyer's fees."

Preston and colleague Kenneth Silverman, Ph.D., of Hopkins presented their findings at the July 1994 meeting of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence. They have begun a new trial to experiment with the value of the vouchers and their timing.

Preston hopes that this new reward system, perhaps in combination with a drug treatment, will help addicts begin reclaiming their lives.

"When people start using drugs, they give up all their non-drug activities," she says. "We want to give people the chance to get back into things they enjoyed doing before they used drugs. We want to redirect them."

-- JHMI --
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