ASAM and CARF’s Certification Program: Yet Another Step Forward in a Long Journey

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The number of Americans dying from drug overdoses has risen continuously since 2012. The sharpest increase came in 2017 with 72,000 fatal overdoses, an increase of 7 percent from the year before. This opioid epidemic is nowhere close to over, but instead seems to be gaining momentum. In addition, deaths from alcohol use continue to remain at historic levels, last year contributing to more than three million deaths worldwide. How can it be that we have been in the throes of the biggest public health crises in modern history for almost a decade, and yet we still have not found an actionable way to stop the death toll? It’s unacceptable.

Caron has been at the forefront of change, joining other like-minded organizations to work tirelessly to implement a plan of action. In large part, the steps taken have been the treatment sector’s attempt to self-police, because the demands of the crisis have attracted “addiction treatment providers” offering treatment that is low-quality at best and criminal at worst.

In February, Caron launched our Patient Bill of Rights, to refocus the treatment sector on the needs of patients and their families. Our CEO, Doug Tieman, took the concept to Congress, where he called for action against unethical practices. Shatterproof’s Substance Use Disorder Treatment Task Force, comprised of healthcare insurers and other payers, united around the need for a national standard of care for addiction. The National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) introduced its Quality Assurance Initiative to address poor care and fraud in the sector.

Last week, came another step forward: the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) and CARF International (CARF) announced a partnership to develop a national certification program for addiction treatment providers. To earn the certification, providers must demonstrate their ability to deliver services meeting the ASAM Criteria, America’s most widely used guidelines for the treatment of addiction and co-occurring disorders. The program, slated to pilot as soon as early 2019, is tremendous news.

After taking the lead for decades to align substance use disorder treatment with mainstream medicine and make addiction treatment a bonafide medical specialty practice with rigorous training and credentials, the partnership with CARF is ASAM’s next step in its mission to bring national standards to this industry. CARF, a nonprofit accreditor of human and health services, has been certifying behavioral health treatment facilities since 1966. What this partnership marries is the organization that offers the best standards for addiction treatment with the organization that provides the most thorough certification processes as one comprehensive force scrutinizing addiction treatment facilities.

Right now, a treatment center can claim it meets ASAM criteria and upholds evidence-based practices, but there is no professional body confirming it is true. Many centers don’t have the staff, facility, programming, resources, or policies and procedures in place to deliver the care they say they can provide. With the advent of this certification program, there will be an independent third-party evaluating all of this – that centers can provide treatment that meets ASAM criteria. This validation will provide patients and their families a simple way to know which institutions are practicing the best medicine, and which are not.

First and foremost, this new initiative will help us save lives. It will also help the many compassionate and talented healthcare professionals in our sector regain the public trust they lost unfairly thanks to the actions of others. The public has long been suspicious of addiction treatment, and with good reason. Tactics used by the nefarious characters in the field are abhorrent and have cost many lives and broken countless families because there hasn’t be a good way to tell the good providers from the bad ones without taking a risk and hoping for the best. At the same time, legitimate and effective treatment programs have helped heal individuals and families. With this initiative, providers will become certified through ASAM and CARF, their statuses will become public, and we’ll have a database of reputable facilities that patients or families can use to find proper treatment.

Caron looks forward to seeing the treatment sector evolve in the wake of this development. While this won’t solve every problem, it will spur a process of natural selection, because it’s likely that treatment centers unable to pass the certification or unwilling to attempt it are the same ones engaging in unethical and harmful practices. It will truly be survival of the fittest – or most ethical.

As a leader in the call to safeguard Americans against subpar providers, we know that action cannot come soon enough for patients and their families. Lives are at stake, and patients are in desperate need of quality control measures that help them make lifesaving decisions. We applaud the efforts of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) and CARF International (CARF) and this next step in ensuring ethical addiction treatment.

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