Will the 'Exponents' Program Revolutionize Drug Addiction Recovery?

| by Michael Allen

The New York City-based drug treatment program 'Exponents' seeks to harness the power of addiction (the power of a focused mind) to motivate recovering addicts and current users to begin walking the path toward sobriety and productivity.

Exponents began as a research project in 1988, during the height of the AIDS epidemic. At that time, over 50 percent of people who were addicted to injection drugs were either HIV positive or living with full-blown AIDS.

Exponents founder Howard Josepher, himself a former addict and inmate, decided he had to do something to help his community, so he and six other men, who were just coming off prison sentences, started a support group in the basement of a local church.

By offering basic social services, moral support and a sense of community, as opposed to forced coercion through the criminal justice system, and programs run by law enforcement that focus on promoting drug abstinence and what’s wrong with the participants, Exponents has managed to become a powerful force for good.

Josepher explained: “I wanted to be helpful, but I didn’t know if I could. When you’re dealing with drug addicted people, they’ve got other things on their minds. But you’ve got to use incentives. What will bring them in the door? All the programs say we’ll give you a better life, we’ll get you off drugs, but as good as that sounds, it’s not enough.”

Incentives such as food, a part-time job, or even a weekly stipend, he said, are enough to get addicts in the door.

“What we did with our target population, in order to facilitate that investment, we created a short, brief intervention,” Josepher added.

“We started a program that looks like a three credit college course. We meet three times a week for eight weeks, and once it’s over they graduate. Graduation is a hallmark, it’s a completion, it’s important. Then that person coming out of prison can see the beginning, the middle and the end, and that’s something that helps them make a commitment, whereas most other programs are open-ended.”

"That sense of accomplishment is remarkably powerful. The drug addicted population, they don’t finish things… But that finish, when they know they’ve completed something, that builds self esteem.”

“They know what you’re doing is to just help them take better care of themselves. You’re not preaching. You’re not telling them they have to be clean. That’s their choice. It’s called client-centered. Where does that person want to go in life? Working from that approach, you’ve got a better shot at engaging and retaining people.”

Today, Exponents has seen over 9,600 addicts graduate from its program, earning numerous government and non-profit grants, and praise from elected officials.

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