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Earning Rewards Is The Newest Treatment for Drug Addiction

For many people, addiction treatment involves both hard work and earning rewards for negative drug tests or showing up for group meetings. These rewards range from candy, gum to gift cards, and more. This method is known as contingency management. U.S. overdose deaths climbed to a record high during the pandemic. Opioids are mostly to blame, but deaths involving stimulants such as methamphetamines are also climbing, according to the Associated Press. Medication can help people quit abusing opioids, but stimulant addition has no effective medication. Reward programs are widely recognized as the most effective treatment for those addicted to stimulants. “We’re in a state of desperation where we need to pull out all the stops and this is something that works,” said Dr. James Berry, who directs addiction medicine at West Virginia University.

Since 2011, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has used the method with 5,700 veterans. Over the years, 92 percent of the urine tests done on these veterans have been negative for drugs, said Dominick DePhilippis of the VA’s substance use disorders program. Psychologists have known for years that people prefer small, immediate rewards over larger, delayed ones – neuroscientists have studied how addiction takes over the brain's reward center, hijacking dopamine pathways and robbing people of the ability to enjoy simple pleasures. “It’s very much using that same dopamine reward system that’s the basis for addictions to promote healthy behavior change,” said psychologist Stephen Higgins of the University of Vermont. The Biden administration backs the method in its National Drug Control Strategy. Starting this fall, California will launch a program designed to reward gift cards for those passing drug tests for stimulants. Oregon and Montana have created plans for similar incentives.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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