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Article Summary

Reduce Cocaine Abuse with Brief Intervention

A brief, one-time meeting with a peer addiction counselor during a routine visit to the doctor combined with a follow-up telephone call a few days later has been shown to help some cocaine and heroin abusers to reduce their drug use.

A Boston University Schools of Medicine and Public Health study, by husband and wife research team Dr. Judith Bernstein and Dr. Edward Bernstein found a significant reduction in drug use by those who received brief interventions.

"Brief interventions have proven effective in initiating positive behavior changes in people who are dependent on alcohol," notes NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow, in a news release. "Preliminary assessments of this process in drug abusers have been encouraging enough to investigate it more thoroughly as a therapeutic tool to enhance treatment."

Establish Rapport

The study involved 1,175 men and women who had tested positive for cocaine or heroin abuse, who were randomly divided into an intervention group and a control group.

During a 20-minute intervention, a peer counselor (a recovering addict), tried to establish rapport with participants by first "asking permission to discuss drug use, exploring the pros and cons of drug use, eliciting the gap between real and desired quality of life, and assessing readiness to change," the study authors said.

The intervention also included the development of an action plan -- referrals to active drug abuse treatment programs, a written list of treatment options, and a followup telephone call 10 days later.

Members of the control group received only the written list.

Peer Intervention Has Benefits

Six months following the intervention session, the researchers found:

  • Among those who abused cocaine, 22.3 percent of the intervention group were abstinent from the drug, compared with 16.9 percent of the control group.
  • Among those who abused heroin, 40.2 percent of the intervention group were abstinent from the drug, compared with 30.6 percent of the control group.
  • Among those who used both drugs, 17.4 percent of the intervention group were drug free, compared with 12.8 percent of the control group.

"This study not only shows that this type of intervention provides true benefits in reducing cocaine and heroin abuse, it also suggests that peer interventionists can play an important role in busy clinical environments," Dr. Volkow said.

Source: The study was published in the January 2005 issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

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