As an addictions counsellor I have often wondered why many addicts attend one or more treatment centers yet most will continue to relapse. And we have to wonder why the success rates for full recovery only vary from 5 to 14 percent. Most treatment centers adhere to the widely accepted disease model of addiction and offer programs ranging from 28 to 90 days duration. We need to figure out what to do to be more successful at helping individuals overcome their lives of misery and addiction?
The answer might lie in a unique program being offered to addicts in far off Italy. San Patrignano, a United Nations accredited non-governmental therapeutic community, was established in 1979 by Vincenzo Muccioli in Rimini, Italy and is committed to the education and rehabilitation of young marginalized persons with drug addictions and related problems. The community is generally home to about 1,300 men and women and over the past 30 years has provided rehabilitation for over 20,000 individuals.
In the words of its founder, “Among the problems that affect the drug addict, drug use is the least relevant. The core of the problem is not drugs, nor the abstinence crisis: it is the human being with his fears and the black holes that threaten to suck him in. That is why I do not like to say nor hear that ours is a community for drug addicts. Ours is a community for living, where you can restart after years spent as a social outcast. Ours, if we really need a definition, is a community against social marginalization.” Vincenzo Muccioli
This program is a refreshing approach to the treatment of drug addiction and the San Patrignano commitment is towards building a better society with the guidance provided by the community and its many volunteers and collaborators. The San Patrignano model of treatment steers clear of pathologizing the addiction and does not foster the disease model of addiction. Nor does this model incorporate a 12 step program; it has no rigid therapeutic steps or even a defined timeline. The program is individually tailored to reflect the needs and characteristics of the participants and does not make any ideological or social discrimination when admitting residents (San Patrignano, 2013).
The two cornerstones of San Patrignano are education and rehabilitation. The rehabilitation is a long-term program that is individually tailored to suit the needs of each individual, who will stay and average of 3 to 4 years. Newly admitted individuals are assigned a tutor and mentor who would support them and monitor their progress. As these individuals grow into the program and are integrated into the San Patrignano community, they are entrusted with the responsibility of tutoring new residents. After the first year of residency, families may join their loved one. As a result, the community is home to roughly 70 children and there are numerous family units to accommodate these children and their families. There is also a school to enable the children to continue with their education.
Education and vocational training is a decisive factor in helping people re-integrate into the job market and re-build their self-esteem. Individuals can choose from over 50 vocational workshops that provide training in such endeavors as health care, farming, baking, carpentry, graphic design, printing, woodworking and furniture making, meal preparation, horse training, wine making, etc. In fact, the funds required to run the community are provided in part from the sale of goods and services produced by the community, as well as from private donations and contributions. There is no government funding nor are individuals and their families asked to help finance the operation. Evidently, the focus is not simply on stabilization, but an entire lifestyle change.
The statistics that are provided offer a glimpse into the remarkable effectiveness of this therapeutic community. Studies undertaken by various universities report a full recovery rate of over 72 percent. This begs the question of why there aren’t more of these communities throughout the world. The short answer is because of the high cost of running such a facility and our reliance on a medical model that continues to treat addiction as a disease rather than a series of environmental and lifestyle issues. San Patrignano simply focuses on community involvement and lifestyle training and views drug use as merely a symptom. But take heart, help may be close at hand with the opening a few years ago of the Baldy Hughes Therapeutic Community just outside of Prince George B.C. This facility is modelled on San Patrignano and may offer a local option for the marginalized addicts in our community.