By Steve Szkotak
Sunday, October 17, 2010; A13
RICHMOND - The Navy is teaming up with a highly regarded addiction-treatment center to provide Web-based support for thousands of sailors, their families and retired personnel struggling with alcohol and drug abuse.
The $3.25 million program is intended to keep sailors with addiction problems on the road to recovery and links them to support programs anywhere in the world, at any time, even when they're deployed. It is tailored primarily to younger sailors, who are at greater risk and are comfortable navigating the Internet and social programs.
It was developed in collaboration with Hazelden, a nonprofit alcohol and drug addiction treatment center based in Minnesota, and is aimed at the 10,000 patients who receive primary treatment annually under the Navy's Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation Services program. While families and retired Navy also receive treatment, the majority of patients are on active duty.
The online program launched in August is called Navy MORE, an acronym for My Ongoing Recovery Experience. An estimated 1,000 patients are expected to use the program in its first year.
"It's patient-centered care," said Master Chief Michael P. Brown, a Navy recovery coach for the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes and Hawaii. "We just assist them along the way.
Capt. Richard D. Bergthold, a clinical psychologist with the Navy, said the program is tailored to military use but also provides the continuing, immediately accessible support and resources that anyone overcoming addiction needs.
"We know it's the investment in the continuing care that makes or breaks a successful treatment," said Bergthold, chief of staff for the Navy's Wounded, Ill and Injured directorate. "We recognize more and more the importance of maintaining continuous engagement with an individual's recovery plan."
A 2005 Department of Defense study found that all military personnel between ages 18 and 25 were more likely to drink heavily than their civilian counterparts. Seventeen percent of Navy personnel described themselves as heavy drinkers, defined as someone who consumes five or more alcoholic drinks at one sitting at least once a week. Illicit drug use has decreased over the past few decades, according to the Pentagon.
Hazelden, which has worked with the Navy for 10 years and already trains Navy counselors, developed MORE over several years to help sailors who have struggled with addiction problems to stay clean and sober once they have gone through the Navy's treatment program.
"One of the main reasons for relapse is the loss of that connectivity during early recovery," said Nick Motu, a Hazelden vice president who worked with the Navy on the program. "We believe that if you can maintain a real solid recovery platform for the first 18 months, the chances of your success and long-term recovery are much higher."
Navy MORE extends this connectivity by putting Navy-specific programs online, including 12-step recovery approaches and a suicide hotline as well as treatment programs tailored to sailors or retirees who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Sailors, their families and retirees also will have access to a virtual "recovery coach" to manage their post-treatment progress, an online library of recovery topics and online support groups, including real-time connections with counselors.
"They don't have access to the traditional recovery communities that someone on the outside world would have," Motu said of sailors who are deployed around the world.
While a sailor assigned to an aircraft carrier would have access to program counselors, other military personnel including Marines in a carrier group might not have the same access to services, Bergthold said.
The Web program's key benefits are immediacy and the ability to access resources with the click of a mouse.
"It's when they go back to their homes, when they go back to their ships, when they go into the increasingly stressful environments in which they work that they require these continuing care services," he said.
Brown, who is based at Naval Hospital Bremerton in Washington state, said it's in the Navy's interest to return "productive sailors to the fleet."
"Everyone in life has their bumps. We're here to assist them, and we're here to help them on their path," he said.
The program is free to its users, and the Navy has signed a five-year contract. Motu said Hazelden is in discussions with other branches of the military to develop similar programs.
- Associated Press