The Therapeutic Utility of Employment in Treating Drug Addiction: Science to Application

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Research on a model therapeutic workplace has allowed for evaluation of the use of employment in the treatment of drug addiction. Under the therapeutic workplace intervention, adults with histories of drug addiction are hired and paid to work. To promote drug abstinence or adherence to addiction medications, participants are required to provide drug-free urine samples or take prescribed addiction medications, respectively, to gain access to the workplace and/or to maintain their maximum rate of pay. Research has shown that the therapeutic workplace intervention is effective in promoting and maintaining abstinence from heroin, cocaine, and alcohol, and in promoting adherence to naltrexone. Three models could be used to implement and maintain employment-based reinforcement in the treatment of drug addiction: A social business model, a cooperative employer model, and a wage supplement model. Under all models, participants initiate abstinence in a training and abstinence initiation phase (Phase 1). Under the social business model, Phase 1 graduates are hired as employees in a social business and are required to maintain abstinence to maintain employment and/or maximum pay. Under the cooperative employer model, cooperating community employers hire graduates of Phase 1 and require them to maintain abstinence to maintain employment and/or maximum pay. Under the wage supplement model, graduates of Phase 1 are offered abstinence-contingent wage supplements if they maintain competitive employment in a community job. Given the severity and persistence of the problem of drug addiction and the lack of treatments that can produce lasting effects, continued development of the therapeutic workplace is warranted.

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