New addiction treatment program in Family Drug Court addresses the whole family

Recorder Staff
Monday, September 25, 2017

GREENFIELD — Swept up in the hurrah of $2.1 million from the federal government for the Franklin Family Drug Court was an evidence-based program that would act as the backbone of the grant to fight the opioid epidemic. The founding doctor behind it, Dr. David Smelson, based out of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, said that although this program, known as “MISSION,” has had proven results since around the turn of the millennium, it has never done exactly what it is now signed up for: apply a model meant for individuals now for the whole family.

“It’s even more of a pilot than you think,” Smelson said.

The program will build on an existing one-year model at the new family court, bolstering the program with four full-time hired hands and a quarter-time nurse, who can provide consultations and write needed prescriptions. The court will likely begin the hiring process in October, the Opioid Task Force said.

MISSION stands for Maintaining Independence and Sobriety through Systems Integration, Outreach and Networking. The full name of the program indicates the wide variety of resources the program taps into in pursuit of an alternative solution for addiction treatment.

“The question is how do we work with the family court?” Smelson said. “Once we’ve pilot tested our model, then we’ll have a better sense of what outcomes we can predict with a new population.”

Smelson is not concerned that his program won’t work. After all, the federal government forked over funds for five years for a reason, convinced by the grant that this program will yield results. He’s just making it clear that MISSION will be in uncharted waters when it comes to implementing its model.

There are six outcomes that the proposal to the government outlines, a laundry-list of short-term and long-term sought-after results that the Opioid Task Force’s coordinator and grant writer Debra McLaughlin pointed to as what they’re looking for to prove its success.

The abstract reads: reduce the rate and severity of substance misuse and co-occurring disorders in parents; increase access to extensive and comprehensive treatment and recovery services for parents; increase access to socio-emotional behavioral and developmental services for their children; provide trauma informed practices and training; increase family reunification and preservation; and improve family functioning through the provision of comprehensive wrap-around services.

“We’re very clear about these pieces and we’re excited to see what we learn from that,” McLaughlin said.

MISSION was founded in 2001 and for the past decade, it has focused specifically on criminal justice reform. With the way courts are typically set up, it tends to work with one person in need of treatment for addiction.

“Our goals are to try to engage the family members into outpatient community support,” Smelson said. “The goal is we don’t feel like your problems are fixed in six months to a year, but we’re trying to get you engaged with the community so that when you’re done you have that support.”

Smelson is confident with how his program will run, building off of recent research by a colleague working on alcohol behavioral couples therapy.

“We know that addressing substance abuse from within the family shows very good outcomes,” he said.

When people with substance abuse issues come through the family drug court, they may be paired up with a caseworker. The idea is that the family will then connect with its local community and when the court proceedings are complete, they have a sustainable network as a support system.

In the program’s first year, Smelson said it will act as a pilot, as typically done. Then in the second year, if it’s not working yet, they will be able to “tinker with the model” and “somewhere around the third year,” have it down.

When he started in this field, Smelson said the goal was to find a better, more successful and predictable way to treat addiction. He looked toward the courts as a place to meet people and get them treatment while still under the pressure of the court.

“Rates of success in addiction treatment are certainly not as high as addressing some cancers, for example,” Smelson said. “How do we improve outcomes in addiction treatment?”

Now Smelson and the Franklin Family Drug Court will have to figure out how to ensure not only a path to recovery for individuals, but a way to help out the whole family.

“Obviously, part of the reason we want to do this is we know addiction affects the entire family and to only address it with one individual is not as effective,” Smelson said.

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