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Fam Pract. 2001 Oct;18(5):545-8.

Residential rehabilitation for drug users: a review of 13 months' intake to a therapeutic community.

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Institute of General Practice and Primary Care, Community Sciences Centre, Northern General Hospital, Herries Road, Sheffield S5 7AU, UK.



Residential rehabilitation based on 'therapeutic community' treatment for drug users is a treatment option which is attractive to GPs and others referring drug users for treatment. Whilst there is evidence that maintenance-based programmes for drug users are effective, there have been fewer attempts to evaluate the effectiveness of abstinence-based programmes which are relatively more intensive and expensive interventions.


This paper reports and evaluates the outcomes for 13 months' intake of 138 drug users to a residential community.


We carried out a retrospective cohort study using existing clinical and residential record data. The setting is a residential rehabilitation centre run by the charity Phoenix House in Sheffield, UK, offering a 1-year programme for heroin addicts including community detoxification overseen by primary care specialist doctors and residential rehabilitation. Participants were all patients who entered treatment between 1 February 1998 and 28 February 1999 inclusive. An analysis was carried out of clinical records and other records kept by clinicians and staff at the centre. Outcome measures were numbers of days of retention in treatment and reasons for departure, categorized as completed treatment, planned or unplanned departure and expulsion from the programme. For patients who underwent in-house detoxification, a further outcome measure was whether or not detoxification was complete at discharge.


Heroin was the main drug of abuse in 85% of admissions. Mean length of time for which individuals had been drug dependent was 8 years (range 1.3-20.1 years). The mean length of stay was 80.2 days (range 1-394, 95% confidence interval 61.8-98.6). Thirty-four individuals (25%) completed 90 days or more. No association was found between length of stay and age, sex, route of administration, polydrug use, length of time addicted or age of first addiction. Sixty-five per cent of those who received in-house detoxification completed the detoxification period. When patients were classified as 'successes' or 'failures' by reason for departure from the programme, 94 (68.1%) were classified as failures and 18 (13.0%) as successes. Data were unavailable for 26 patients. Success was not associated with any characteristic at entry apart from being drug free as opposed to requiring detoxification (P = 0.048, chi-square = 6.06, df = 2).


This study shows overall low levels of programme completion and high levels of unplanned departure and eviction from the programme amongst these long-term drug users. On the other hand, the importance of abstinence for those who achieve it in residential rehabilitation should not be underestimated, nor should the possibility that long-term outcomes are influenced by the learning process involved in the intervention. It may be possible to operate better selection procedures in order to optimize outcomes.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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