In Brief

Psychological research on prevention and treatment can help stem the nascent methamphetamine-abuse epidemic, said Richard Rawson, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, at a June congressional briefing. Regardless of rumors to the contrary, people addicted to methamphetamine respond to treatment as well as do people addicted to other drugs, such as cocaine, Rawson reported at the briefing. The meeting was organized by the APA Science Public Policy Office on behalf of the Friends of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a coalition that includes other groups such as the American Psychiatric Association and the American Sociological Association.

Two treatments proven to work with people addicted to methamphetamine, said Rawson, are contingency management and "The Matrix Model," a hybrid treatment program involving the former plus cognitive-behavioral therapy and family education that Rawson and his colleagues developed. With contingency management, patients receive rewards--often in the form of grocery vouchers--for every drug-free urine sample they provide during weekly testing sessions. Some programs provide increasing rewards for consecutive drug-free samples, Rawson noted.

"This is a very simple technique...but in application with meth users it produces a tremendously large effect," he said.

The Matrix Model combines contingency management with cognitive-behavioral therapy and family education during a 16-week program. As a group, participants cut their usage by half by the end of the program--a recovery rate comparable to cocaine users, said the psychologist.

Further research is needed to identify effective prevention strategies--especially as meth use may be on the rise, as suggested by recent increases in meth-related emergency room visits, Rawson said. In fact, a survey by the National Association of Counties released shortly after the briefing suggested that methamphetamine is the nation's leading drug problem.

At the briefing, National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Nora Volkow, MD, detailed how meth can dramatically damage the brain's dopamine system and noted that the damage can be at least partially reversed through prolonged abstinence from the drug. Vicki Sickels, a woman formerly dependent on the drug, shared the story of her struggle with the stimulant.

The briefing attracted a sizeable audience, notes Geoff Mumford, PhD, APA's director of science policy.

"As a testament to the interest on Capitol Hill in the methamphetamine epidemic, the briefing drew 180 attendees--a record for any briefing I've been involved in," he says.