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Reward-based treatment helps fight rise in Washington meth addiction

(Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

While meth addiction has risen in Washington state of late, researchers have long been searching for a treatment that’s as effective as those being used for other drug addiction. They may have found hope with a new process that uses a system of rewards and positive reinforcement.

Called contingency management, it works by having patients come in to take a urine test a few times a week, and if they pass they can draw for a prize, which ranges from toothbrushes to DVD players, to vouchers, with more draws the longer you’re sober. Failed tests get you nothing, reports The Seattle Times.

“I love this story because the simplicity of the science of it, and I love how human beings can be boiled down, so reaching into a jar and removing something and winning a teeny tiny prize is more addictive or more appealing than something that strangles the life out of them,” said KIRO Radio’s John Curley.

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The treatment is both cheap to run and effective with addicts. Reports from 2009 to 2014 show high levels of patient improvement, with patients’ chances of dropping drug use reaching 117 percent, according to the Times. And when tried at the Seattle VA (Veteran Affairs), 87 percent of urine screens came back negative, and more than half completed the 12-week treatment.

“The idea here is that maybe with this carrot and stick approach, maybe if we we offered more carrots, it might be a way to get a meth addict off meth,” said co-host Tom Tangney. “That the addiction isn’t necessarily to the meth, but to the culture that he lives in which doesn’t reward him for anything else, and so he seeks out the meth.”

“The problem is that it’s so DIY that it feels unfundable,” Tangney added.

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That is an issue that researchers are facing. Even though the treatment is cheap and effective, it’s not considered traditional and grants are hard to come by. Despite that, researchers are continuing to explore the treatment at Washington clinics and are looking into getting federal funding.

“The beauty of it is that — regarding the carrot and stick approach — it’s the fact that the carrots could literally be a small bag of carrots,” joked Curley.

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