RESEARCH: WHY TREATMENT PROVIDERS SHOULD PARTNER WITH UNIVERSITIES
Partnerships between charities and universities are a win-win situation for both, writes Oscar D’Agnone. Universities can conduct outcome and other studies which providers cannot afford, while academics can recruit study participants and see their research translated into practice.
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Everyone has something to say about how best to treat people with drug and alcohol addiction. From clinicians to politicians to the general public, there is fierce debate not only about which treatment is best, but the reasons why a person becomes addicted to drugs and alcohol in the first place. Having come across thousands of people through my work at the national health and social care charity CRI, I know there are so many complex social and medical factors involved in each person’s addiction that every situation is intrinsically different.
Many charities, clinicians and politicians have the best intentions, be it to help individuals addicted to drugs or to ensure that society at large benefits from the positive changes people can make to their lives. What is striking, though, is that many lack the actual evidence to support the effectiveness of their intervention strategies, policies or funding decisions.
Charities and organisations which treat addiction understandably choose to spend what money they have on treating addicts. This means that there is little resource left to conduct indepth and widespread research using and building on the data that we inadvertently gather every day… Research that could help these organisations to improve their services and ultimately improve the lives of the people they are trying to help in the first place.
The solution lies in developing partnerships with education institutions such as universities or research centres, which are granted millions of pounds each year by external bodies such as research councils, funding charities and government: funding specifically for research. They dedicate countless hours to analysing the kind of data we have access to every day.
Partnerships between charities and universities are a win-win situation for both parties. Universities benefit from seeing their research translated into practice and it gives them the opportunity to recruit service users to take part in research. This research investigates fundamental questions about the causes of addiction and how best to treat it. Research in the drug and alcohol field has the potential to help charities improve interventions by ensuring that they are more tailored to individuals’ needs.
With new medications and innovative intervention trialled by charities, it is vital to gather evidence about their safety and effectiveness. Research has a crucial role to play in determining the right way to integrate these new medications with existing and new psychosocial interventions.
Recognising the importance of forging new clinical-academic links to fuel research and inform practice, CRI has partnered with the University of Manchester, something I was heavily involved in facilitating. We both place a strong emphasis on social responsibility and carrying out research which makes a difference to people’s lives. This partnership will develop joint research programmes and educational activities on issues such as genetics, phenotypic and environment risk factors for addiction relapse.
By partnering with the University of Manchester, CRI will benefit from pioneering research on addiction, from imaging studies that look at the neurobiological basis of craving through to policy-based research that considers how best to tackle the individual and social harms that arise from addiction and drug misuse.
I have always been a believer in a holistic approach to treatment. But what I believe is not important: it is what works for each individual that is important. And more important than that, we need to prove it works if we are to help people get their lives back on track and free from addiction and the issues which come with it.
At the heart of these partnerships is the idea that, through our day-to-day work as clinicians, we can help addicts and other clinicians not only in our own communities but round the world.
And research does not have to be on a grand scale. Partnering up to develop research at a local level can identify issues specific to an individual community, as well as emerging trends when combined with another region’s research.
Addiction affects us all, not only individual addicts but also their families, communities and wider society. Understanding the causes of addiction, its effects and ways to deal with those effects should be a priority for us all.
OSCAR D’AGNONE is a psychiatrist with over 25 years’ experience working with substance misusers. He is medical director of CRI.