Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Interview with Deni Carise, Chief Clinical Officer of Phoenix House
Why addiction treatment works—if you let it.
This time around, our “Five-Question Interview” series features clinical psychologist Deni Carise, senior vice president and chief clinical officer at Phoenix House, a leading non-profit drug treatment organization with more than 100 programs in 10 states. Chances are, you may have seen or heard her already: Dr. Carise has been a guest commentator about drugs and addiction for Nightline, ABC’s Good Morning America, Fox News, and local New York media outlets. She is frequently quoted in US News and World Report and other periodicals, blogs at Huffington Post, and has also consulted for the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.
Dr. Carise earned her doctorate at Drexel University, and served as a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Studies of Addiction at the University of Pennsylvania. Currently, she is also adjunct clinical professor in the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Psychiatry. She has been involved with drug abuse treatment and research for more than 25 years, and has worked extensively in developing countries to integrate science-based drug treatments into local programs. She has worked with adults and adolescent populations including dually diagnosed clients, Native Americans, and with medical populations (including spinal cord-injured, cardiac care and trauma patients).
1. As chief clinical officer for Phoenix House Foundation, what's your job description?
Deni Carise: My main responsibility is to ensure that we provide the highest possible standard of care. This means making sure that treatment methods across our programs are consistent with the latest research, represent a variety of evidence-based practices, and are delivered with fidelity. I also collaborate on the implementation and evaluation of Phoenix House’s national and regional strategies to achieve clinical excellence. My home base is New York, but I work directly with all of our programs and regularly travel to our California, New England, Mid-Atlantic, Texas, and Florida regions. I also oversee the activities of our Family Services, Quality Assurance, Research, Workforce Development, and Training initiatives. Finally, I help Phoenix House spread awareness to the public about the need to reduce the stigma of addiction and to increase access to treatment services.
2. As a clinical psychologist, how did you become involved in drug and alcohol treatment and recovery?
Deni Carise: I actually became involved in the Substance Abuse Treatment (SAT) field prior to becoming a clinical psychologist. When I decided that I wanted to get sober, I got some help from a counselor. This counselor was so helpful to my recovery that I decided to become an SA counselor so that I could assist others on this journey. I was working as a model at that time, and there were a few aspects of that career that I didn’t like: First, it was very clear that I would become less valuable in my career as I got older; secondly, my value was exclusively based on appearance, not knowledge or skills; and finally, my work didn’t contribute to the greater good—that is, no one benefitted by my work. I wanted a new career where I would become more valuable as I got older and more experienced, and where my knowledge and skills would be of value. I also wanted to do something I felt was contributing to society. The SAT field seemed to fit all these criteria.
3. What makes it so difficult for people to accept the disease components of serious drug addiction?
Deni Carise: People have difficulty accepting the disease concept of addiction for three reasons. First, people believe addiction is self-induced; you wouldn’t have it if you didn’t use drugs, right? There is some truth to this, but of all those who try drugs, an estimated 5 to 10% (depending on the drug) will become addicted. There’s a reason why the other 90 to 95% don’t become addicted.
That brings us to reason #2: People generally don’t believe there is a genetic cause. It is now very clear that there is a genetic component to substance use disorders. For example, if a father is an insulin-dependent diabetic, the heritability estimates range from 70 to 90% likelihood that the man’s son will also be diabetic. For hypertension, the heritability estimates are from 25 to 50%, depending which study we look at. For alcohol, the estimates are 55 to 65% likelihood that a young man will be alcohol dependent if his father is. For opiate dependence, it’s 35 to 50%.
The third and probably most important reason is that people think calling addiction a disease absolves the substance abuser of responsibility for his or her actions. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those in recovery see the disease of alcoholism or addiction as a moral obligation to get well. If you know you have this disease and the only way to keep it under control is not to use alcohol or drugs, then that’s what you have to do.
4. Overall, treatment doesn't seem to be that effective. What's missing?
Deni Carise: I believe treatment is effective. We’re just expecting the wrong results. Substance abuse has the same characteristics as any chronic medical disorder. The problem is that we (society, families, even me) want addiction to respond to treatment as though it’s an acute medical problem, like a broken leg or appendicitis. If it were an acute problem, we could send our kids, loved ones, even ourselves to treatment for a set number of days (maybe 7, maybe 28) and leave the hospital or treatment facility with the condition cured—as we would after surgery for an appendicitis! I would love that.
Unfortunately, we’ve been measuring treatment success the same way we would for a surgical problem, even though substance abuse and dependence are, in fact, chronic problems. Think about this—substance abuse treatment success is often measured by symptoms, drug use, and life problems prior to treatment and again six months after treatment ends. Imagine if we measured success of diabetes treatment the same way. We would measure their blood sugar levels, weight, number of diabetic crises, and other related problems before treatment. Then we’d send them off to a treatment program where we would prescribe medications, maybe give them insulin, teach them about a good diet, discharge them (take away that treatment), and measure their blood sugar levels, weight, etc. six months after we stopped the medication. Do we really think that would work with diabetes? Then why would we think it would work with addiction?
As with all chronic disorders, there are no prolonged, symptom-free periods without continued attention and self-management of the illness. Just as some people with diabetes can manage their illness with behavioral changes such as making healthy decisions when offered cakes or cookies, or starting an exercise program, some people with substance abuse problems can control their symptoms by changing their behaviors. This means not being around others who use, making the right decisions when offered alcohol or drugs, etc. For those who can’t do this alone, there’s treatment to teach them how to manage their disease and there are medications to assist them. And I’m talking about the diabetic and the substance abuser.
So treatment can work, but, just like any chronic disease, there’s no quick fix.
5. You're committed to working with developing countries to bring scientifically valid treatment within reach of poorer populations. How is the effort going?
Deni Carise: I’ve been really lucky to be able to consult for numerous treatment systems, universities, and countries around the world—including training clinicians from Nigeria, Thailand, Egypt, Greece, Iran, Singapore, Brazil, China, Iraq, India, and other countries. It’s fascinating to see how different countries approach local substance abuse problems. Some countries have historically asserted that substance abuse is not a problem in their communities, so for them to offer treatment of any kind means they need to change their socipolitical stance. That doesn’t happen quickly. For one country, the diagnosis of AIDS among 7 substance abusers who had shared needles was the impetus to providing treatment.
Much of what I’ve done internationally involves cultural adaptations of standardized instruments or clinical tools (such as the Addiction Severity Index assessment tool) for use within various cultures. To do this, I typically meet with numerous staff who deliver direct services in the country. We go over each assessment question or worksheet item looking at what would make sense in their culture. Types of things that frequently need adapting are questions about education (not everyone has “high schools”), employment and income, demographic questions such as race categories, and all manner of expressions used to describe drugs and clinical symptoms. Then we pilot the new interview or service with some local clients and get their perspective and make a final version.
Much of this work has been funded by the United Nations Office on Drug Use and Crime, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Office of National Drug Control Policy.