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Working in Recovery: How do we know what works? We ask questions

By Gary Harmon, Ph.D.
Vice President, Director of Research & Grants

As the substance use disorder field continues to evolve and move closer to a medical model, Odyssey House is poised to remain a leader.  The ability of the agency to retain the essential elements of treatment from its roots over 45 years ago, combined with cutting-edge and new research-supported treatment, has led to a model that we know works. 

Personally, I take great satisfaction in the quality of the services we provide and the excellent treatment outcomes that are produced.  Since my role often involves viewing our clients, programs, and services as data on a computer screen, I always make sure to remember that every number represents a person; someone who came to Odyssey House in need of help; someone with a dream or hope of a better life.  Keeping that important principle in mind helps to ensure that I never stop asking that very important question:  “How do we know what we do works?” 

Entering into the substance use disorder field six years ago, I was eager to apply my background in public health to one of the greatest problems facing our society.  I have worked with disadvantaged and disenfranchised populations for my entire career but this field presented an entirely new set of challenges and barriers.  It was clear from the start that our clients and residents were not only battling with drugs and alcohol, but most were also beset with poverty, trauma, mental illness and homelessness.  One of the reasons that I was attracted to Odyssey House was the organization’s approach to research and data.  Employing a full-time director of research and grants signaled to me that the agency had a value for exploring what was most effective for our clients and residents.  At that time, the agency had begun to implement several Evidence-Based Practices (EBPs), and was participating in a National Institute on Drug AbuseClinical Trial Network research study. 

The acceptance of new, data-driven interventions shows that Odyssey House is staying ahead of the field in terms of best practices and the most effective treatment services, and the commitment to research and implementation of EBPs has only grown. We now employ more than 12 different data-driven interventions throughout the agency, and we have recently participated in several clinical trials with both New York University and Columbia University. As an evaluator on several grant projects supported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, I have seen from the data that the programs we implement are effective.

The first questions I asked of my colleagues upon entering the field was, “What do we do?” and “How do we know what we do works?” Although simple questions, it was clear to me that the answers were much more complex and the results more rewarding.

Working in Recovery is an occasional series of guest blog posts by Odyssey House clinical, administrative, and research experts.

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