Studying the Dynamics of Opioid Addiction & Recovery

By measuring how transformation happens, the Butler Center for Research is helping to shape better solutions

The topic of addiction often generates more heat than light, especially when punctuated with words such as "heroin" or "overdose." Now underway, a Butler Center for Research study on treatment for opioid addiction will help illuminate the most-promising ways forward based on scientific inquiry and data analyses.

Addiction research has long been a cornerstone of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation beginning informally in 1950 with the practice of following the progress of patients after they completed treatment. Over the ensuing decades, the Foundation's research initiatives expanded exponentially to encompass a range of scholarly and clinical activities, contributing to the field's knowledge about addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery.

"While we know addiction treatment is effective, we have much yet to discover about the dynamics and processes of that transformation," notes Audrey Klein, PhD, executive director of the Butler Center for Research. "How does change come about? What internal and external factors are involved in producing change?" she asks.

"The more we can objectively describe and measure the processes and indicators of change, the better we can target addiction treatment efforts," Klein explains.

In 2012, when Hazelden clinicians launched new evidence-based treatment protocols for opioid addiction that combine medication-assisted therapies within a comprehensive Twelve Step framework, the Butler Center for Research designed a clinical study to analyze the impact of the programs on patient populations.

"This is precisely the type of scientific inquiry Patrick Butler and the Foundation's earliest leaders championed—the coupling of research activity with the delivery of clinical care," Klein remarks.

The innovative treatment protocols were developed by Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation experts in response to the nationwide surge in rates of prescription opioid addiction and opioid-related deaths. The program, called Comprehensive Opioid Response with the Twelve Steps (COR-12™), involves adjunctive use of certain medications for opioid dependence as a means to achieve the following:

  • Improve the likelihood of abstinence from opioids;
  • Boost retention and engagement in opioid addiction treatment;
  • Reduce cravings for opioids;
  • Lower relapse rates.

The pilot study follows 200 patients with opioid use disorder who were admitted to Hazelden in Center City, Minnesota, treatment programs. Patient data is collected during an initial assessment as well as at weekly intervals during treatment and at one-, six- and twelve-month intervals post-treatment.

"We are examining opioid treatment impact across multiple indicators," reports Klein. "How are opioid withdrawal symptoms and cravings impacted? How are treatment retention and patient engagement levels impacted? How are relapse rates and long-term opioid abstinence rates impacted?" At this time, participant recruitment, data collection, and analyses remain underway. Klein expects to issue findings in 2017. She points to several other clinical research projects as recent examples of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation's commitment to scientific inquiry, including:

  • Development of a more precise tool to assess the characteristics of successful addiction recovery;
  • An examination of the role of spirituality in treatment and recovery;
  • An investigation of age-related differences in the prevalence and treatment of alcohol dependence.

"Across the Foundation, research provides the systematic evaluation necessary for data-driven decision making," says Klein. "As Patrick Butler understood decades ago, research builds effectiveness and is a vital tool for continuing to deliver on our mission."


Recovering Hope

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"Addiction research has a special place in our hearts. Our gift to the Butler Center for Research honors the memory of our son whose curious nature, scientific mind, and altruistic spirit led him to a career in technology and research development. We hope funding will aid in the search for answers."
Sharon A. and John A., loyal donors

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> In 2015, more than 40 data analysis projects were conducted by the research center to inform clinical care and academic programming, identify treatment needs, and contribute to the field's knowledge of addiction treatment.

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