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US Halts Evidence-Based Program That Evaluates Therapies For Addiction

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The program helped communities discern evidence-based treatment providers from those shown to be unhelpful.

A program that helps to connect individuals, families, physicians, and other community organizations with evidence-based treatment facilities for drug addiction and other mental health issues was dealt a harsh blow by the Trump administration late last year.

Though the program continues, its ability to maintain a database of treatment providers was nixed when the administration canceled funding for the database.

The program, called the National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices, was launched in 1997 and is run by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Its website lists 453 programs in behavioral health — aimed at everything from addiction and parenting to HIV prevention, teen depression, and suicide-hotline training — that have been shown, by rigorous outcomes measures, to be effective and not quackery.

SAMHSA last updated the system in September but indicated it will continue the process of vetting and adding treatment providers as an in-house operation. Skeptics are not convinced.

Because SAMHSA has not explained how or when it will pick up the registry work, “I’m pessimistic,” said psychology professor Warren Throckmorton, of Grove City College in Pennsylvania, who teaches a seminar that includes lessons on evidence-based programs and practices. “Why did they stop something before they had something to put in its place? Why stop what was working reasonably well?”

Suzanne Kerns of Denver University and executive director of the Center for Effective Interventions said the move will harm communities that do not have the resources to vet treatment programs themselves.

“If you’re a community official in the middle of Kansas, you might not have access to all the scientific literature, or the time or resources to read and critique it. That’s the gift that NREPP offers."

Because NREPP stopped vetting and listing new programs three months ago (90 were reportedly in the pipeline), “there are potentially effective programs that communities need to know about but that are sitting dead in the water,” Bertram said.