Employment-based abstinence reinforcement as a maintenance intervention for the treatment of cocaine dependence: post-intervention outcomes

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AimsDue to the chronicity of cocaine dependence, practical and effective maintenance interventions are needed to sustain long-term abstinence. We sought to assess the effects of long-term employment-based reinforcement of cocaine abstinence after discontinuation of the intervention.DesignParticipants who initiated sustained opiate and cocaine abstinence during a 6-month abstinence reinforcement and training program worked as data entry operators and were randomly assigned to a group that could work independently of drug use (control, n = 24), or an abstinence-contingent employment (n = 27) group that was required to provide cocaine- and opiate-negative urine samples to work and maintain maximum rate of pay.SettingA non-profit data entry business.ParticipantsUnemployed welfare recipients who persistently used cocaine while in methadone treatment.MeasurementsUrine samples and self-reports were collected every 6 months for 30 months.FindingsDuring the employment year, abstinence-contingent employment participants provided significantly more cocaine-negative samples than controls (82.7% and 54.2%; P = 0.01, OR = 4.61). During the follow-up year, the groups had similar rates of cocaine-negative samples (44.2% and 50.0%; P = 0.93) and human immunodeficiency virus risk behaviors. Participants' social, employment, economic and legal conditions were similar in the two groups across all phases of the study.ConclusionsEmployment-based reinforcement effectively maintains long-term cocaine abstinence, but many patients relapse to use when the abstinence contingency is discontinued, even after a year of abstinence-contingent employment. Relapse could be prevented in many patients by leaving employment-based abstinence reinforcement in place indefinitely, which could be facilitated by integrating it into typical workplaces.

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