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Drinking study seeks older New Mexicans

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

Wanted: 220 older New Mexicans with drinking problems who want help.

A research project based in Denmark is seeking to enlist people here in the hope of developing and testing – locally – promising therapies for alcohol and substance abuse.

The reward for the 200, who must be at least 60 years old to qualify, is treatment at no cost to them.

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“Our approach may be the best opportunity for identifying and treating people in this age group,” Dr. Michael Bogenshutz, the project’s principal U.S. investigator, told the Journal.

Thanks to a scientific relationship between the University of New Mexico’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the University of Southern Denmark, New Mexicans are the only Americans asked to participate in the project.

Testing and development of the therapies will be handled on an outpatient basis at primary care locations – three in Denmark, two in Germany, and one at First Choice Community Healthcare in Albuquerque’s South Valley.

Locally, the project is a collaboration among First Choice, the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and the Center for Alcohol, Substance Abuse and Addiction.

A Danish foundation is funding the project, based in the city of Odense in the Scandinavian country.

Those who qualify will receive one of two proven treatments for alcohol abuse.

“As a result, we expect that either of these treatments will help them,” said Bogenshutz, the department’s vice chair for addiction psychiatry. “There’s no way to lose. And the treatments are free.”

Recruitment at all six sites has been slow, said Sandra Warren, a research coordinator from the Department of Psychiatry. Since March, only 32 New Mexicans have signed up.

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A ready explanation for the slow enrollment is a general reluctance on the part of all drinkers, and particularly older abusers, to seek help. That fact alone underscores the importance and value of the project, according to Bogenshutz.

“This study is especially important because we tend to see that people who are 60 years and older are particularly unlikely to seek specialty care for substance use treatment,” he said. “This may be partially due to stigma and, perhaps, a generational tendency to see alcohol-use disorders as untreatable or as weaknesses.”

The project addresses the stigma head on. If the strategy works, people going for their routine health appointments with their general practitioners can be treated for alcohol-use disorders at the same time and place.

One form of treatment lasts four weeks. Called “motivational enhancement therapy,” it is based on an interviewing strategy developed by Dr. William Miller at UNM.

“It is a well-established, evidence-based treatment,” Bogenshutz said. “There have been hundreds of controlled trials showing its effectiveness.”

The longer, 12-week therapy starts with Miller’s approach, then adds eight more weeks of “community reinforcement, particularly adapted to the needs of older drinkers,” Bogenshutz said. “We work with participants to enrich their lives in such a way as to show that there are attractive alternatives to drinking, as well as ways to stop and avoid drinking.”

He noted that the quality of life is diminished for many older people who have lost important aspects of their lives – loved ones, careers, good health.


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