A plan to let patients compare addiction treatment programs

Families should be able to compare and find addiction recovery providers the same way shoppers compare cars or refrigerators, according to Thomas McClellan.

“I want to get the thing, the service, the good that has the highest number of quality features at the most reasonable price,” said McClellan, who founded the Treatment Research Institute in Philadelphia after a long career in addiction medicine.

McClellan says his institute helped Utah compare providers and right now several other states are doing it as well. He made a prediction at the conference of New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies.

“This kind of consumer involvement is going to happen because it has to,” he said.

“People have to be accountable for treatment and results so that people will get better,” said New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, President and CEO, Debra Wentz.

McClellan’s lectures generated chuckles from the audience while he used the Surgeon General’s 2016 “Facing Addiction in America” report as a basis for a wake-up call.

“You might want to write this down: they do not have a 30-day diabetes program,” he said.

McClellan says providers should approach addiction the same way primary care doctors treat chronic diseases like asthma or hypertension.

“Here’s what they don’t do. They don’t put their hands on their hips and say, ‘well, when you’re ready to change your diabetes, I’ll talk to you.’ Nope, that would be malpractice. What they do instead is they refer to specialty care,” McClellan said.

McClellan says addiction recovery providers should see themselves as specialty care providers. By measuring their patients’ progress, they’d be measuring the outcome of the care the same way a doctor would for high blood pressure and changing the care, if needed.

“Now there’s clear evidence, lots of randomized control trials in medical settings, where lots of addictions can be handled the same way,” he said.

One provider says it practices what McClellan teaches.

“We do a better job, I believe, in connecting people to continued care. We hang on to people,” said Tony Comerford, president and CEO of New Hope Integrated Behavioral Health Care.

McClellan says the research results to improve the delivery of care for addiction recovery services are undeniable.

“It’s sobering because our industry simply hasn’t caught up with the science,” McClellan said.

McClellan blames stigma for a system created decades ago but was segregated from medicine because it was thought of as a lifestyle rather than a health issue. He says understanding should lead to change.