A program run by San Francisco’s Public Health Department over the last year has given meth users rewards worth up to $40 per week to stay off drugs, the Los Angeles Times reports. Participants receive no counseling or lectures, even if they test positive for meth use. Their end of the bargain: Show up at a clinic three times a week, urinate in a cup, and collect their reward – a voucher, not cash – if they test drug-free. A pilot program, the San Francisco venture is the latest experiment to point in the same intriguing, if controversial, direction: Addicts respond remarkably well to material rewards, even little ones.
The findings could be significant in California, where methamphetamine use continues to surge. It has surpassed alcohol and heroin as the drug of choice among those seeking treatment. The drug increases arousal and reduces inhibitions, sometimes leading to violence, child neglect, and serious health problems such as malnutrition and heart failure among chronic users. The voucher approach replaces one reward with another – the high of drugs such as meth with the mental boost of grocery money, a gift certificate or a rent subsidy. Since November 2004, 159 participants have enrolled in the 12-week San Francisco program, which is geared toward gay and bisexual men. So far, about 38 percent of those eligible have completed their stint.