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May 30, 2000

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Hopkins Researchers Successfully Using Behavioral Techniques, Set up a Non-profit Business to Employ and Treat Drug Addicts

Johns Hopkins researchers, successfully using behavioral techniques to keep drug addicts abstinent, have formed a non-profit data processing company to employ the addicts and provide them with monetary incentives to stay off drugs.

The company, CLH Data Services, already has its first customer, according to Kenneth Silverman, Ph.D., associate professor of behavioral science at Hopkins' Center for Learning and Health (CLH) at the Bayview Medical Center.

The women in the program were all addicts using methadone to treat heroin addiction and were also taking cocaine, not an unusual circumstance. Unlike alcoholism, where the issue of total abstinence is controversial, remaining completely drug free is critical in treating drug addiction.

Research, much of it done at Hopkins, shows that if drug addicts are given a monetary incentive—vouchers for services—they are far more likely to remain totally abstinent for longer periods of time, according to Silverman. Three published studies—including one to be published this year—show that not only do incentives work, but the greater the incentive, the better the results.

In the most recent study, patients in a program for pregnant addicts were given vouchers for each time they produced a cocaine-free urine sample, with a sliding scale that increased with each clear sample. The women could earn as much as $3480. They were compared to a group of women who received no incentive and another group that could earn less than $400. Almost half of the first group was drug-free for four weeks or more; one woman in the lower-incentive group matched that, and none in the no-incentive group.

Because there is opposition in the anti-drug community to these incentives because of cost, Silverman and his colleagues formed CLH Data to make the program self-sufficient. The company enters data for scientific experiments, with women addicts in the program trained for the jobs. They can work only as long as they stay drug free and are treated as temporary Hopkins employees. "We're out there trying to make a business," Silverman says "We'll use the income from customers to pay salaries and sustain the operation."

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