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National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence (NCADD): Exclusive Interview with Robert J. Lindsey

I was recently given the opportunity to interview Mr. Robert Lindsey, current President and CEO of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD). He joined the organization in 2006, and has been involved in alcoholism and addiction recovery services for over 30 years. NCADD operates on national, state, and local community levels to spread awareness and provide support to people and families affected by alcoholism and drug dependence. NCADD does this by encouraging, educating, and aiding in recovery. Their founder, Marty Mann, established three basic principles that remain at the core of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. These principles are:

  • Alcoholism is a disease and the alcoholic is a sick person.
  • The alcoholic can be helped and is worth helping.
  • Alcoholism is a public health problem and therefore a public health responsibility.

These basic tenets of NCADD are where our conversation began.

TestCountry: I see that your founder established the National Council because of her history with alcoholism. When did NCADD begin to focus on drug dependence as well?

Mr. Lindsey: Marty Mann founded the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence in 1944. She was the first woman to recover from alcoholism through Alcoholics Anonymous, which is why the organization was focused primarily on alcoholism at that time. The board shortly made the decision to change our name to incorporate drug dependence because it was beginning to be seen as a social issue on a national scale, and we knew we needed to be able to provide support on both levels. However, in terms of the number of individuals and families affected, alcoholism continues to be this country's number one drug problem, which is why alcoholism and Marty Mann's history remain prevalent. We have made progress, but the regrettable reality is that less than 10% of people who suffer actually receive treatment. There are about 23 million people above the age of 12 addicted to alcohol and drugs, and 15 million of those are addicted to alcohol.

TestCountry: Marty seems like she was an extraordinary woman.

Mr. Lindsey: Absolutely. When you look at women's place in society in the early 1940's, and then add to that a prominent woman suffering from alcoholism, and then also being extremely public about her recovery, it gives you a clear picture about what an extraordinary woman she was and how relevant her mission continues to be today in terms of educating the public and providing hope to those in need.

TestCountry: I noticed that one of the ways NCADD provides education and inspiration to those in need is through the programs and initiatives it has undertaken. One of these in particular is the Employee Assistance Program, which seems to go beyond drug and alcohol addiction in promoting a healthy workplace.

Mr. Lindsey: The National Council started the Employee Assistance Program. We are the founder of the concept. It began in the late 1940's and early 50's through working with unions in order to combat alcoholism, and was called the Occupational Alcoholism Program. It later began to incorporate drug awareness as well, and is now what we call a “broad brush” program that deals with addiction but also with social problems and family stability. It is plain and simple—there is no more effective tool for an employer than helping all their employees and their company's bottom line. Over the years, the Employee Assistance Program has saved thousands and thousands of lives and has also saved companies and corporations millions of dollars.

TestCountry: How does this program work?

Mr. Lindsey: The program is designed to have multiple access points. An employee or their family can access help through the program on a confidential basis at no cost, at any time. It provides education sessions for employees, supervisors, managers, and families on a whole range of issues. This way, when someone's use interferes with their capacity to do their job because of attendance issues, safety hazards and violations, use on premises, or accidents, the employer has a tool that helps them evaluate and address the issue with the employee that recognizes their needs, gets them help, and also holds them accountable for their actions. A number of the programs utilize alcohol and drug testing as a component. The people who use the programs most effectively are aggressive about promoting it and presenting their employees with information. The preference, obviously, is that employees or families reach out on their own before any issues become a workplace related problem. The power in the Employee Assistance Program lies in its flexibility to meet all these diverse needs.

TestCountry: I saw another innovative initiative of the National Council is the development of Drug Courts across the country. What is the story behind these?

Mr. Lindsey: The NCADD and our local affiliates were the first organizations to create the concept behind drug courts. The focus is simple: almost 70% of people in the criminal justice system are there because of alcohol and other drugs. Regrettably, we have had this perception that merely holding someone legally accountable will solve the problem. The reality is that for an addict the consequences are grossly inadequate in terms of producing change. It is the medical equivalent of a person walking into a doctor's office with a broken leg, the doctor admitting the leg is broken and doing nothing, and then being surprised when the patient returns in six months with the same exact problem. This is because we are doing nothing to treat the problem. Drug courts allow you to work with an individual, hold them accountable, and match them with a treatment that works and makes sense for them. It is successful in terms of recovery rates but also as a result many people stay out of the criminal justice system. From the standpoint of taxpayer dollar investment it is extraordinary, and the only option that produces recovery as well as reduced cost and expenses associated with the justice system.

TestCountry: Are you able to give an estimate of the amount of money a Drug Court can save?

Mr. Lindsey: A local affiliate of ours in Richmond, Virginia recently began a program in Richmond City Jail that incorporated Peer Recovery Support. After a four-year study, it was estimated that they saved $8 million in future incarceration costs and emergency room costs. As these individuals work together to support recovery they are engaged productively and effectively with each other, which results in higher recovery rates and a reduction in future incarceration.

TestCountry: It sounds like an incredible initiative. If you had to choose, what has been the most effective program that the National Council has implemented?

Mr. Lindsey: I would say that the most important contribution that the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence has made to the field and to the public is raising the public's awareness about alcohol and addiction. This helps increase opportunities and the educate people about the reality of recovery for the individual and the family. Along the way we have done this in a variety of different ways. We work with the media, our local affiliates, and through programs like our annual National Alcohol Awareness Month that takes place in April, among others.

TestCountry: We have mentioned your local affiliates a few times throughout this interview. While these affiliates can be located through your website, can you give us an idea about how they operate?

Mr. Lindsey: Certainly. We have almost 100 local NCADD affiliates across the country. They serve defined geographic areas like a city, county, or state. They offer neutral information and referral services. When an individual calls, our role is to talk to them about where they are, what they have been up to, and how we can develop a plan for the future. We do not try to engage them in “treatment” but rather team them up with appropriate resources to help them and their family in their unique situation. For example, we had one individual call 30 different treatment centers who all wanted to enroll him in their particular treatment programs. NCADD was the only one who was able to help him identify what he really needed instead of forcing him into a “one size fits all” treatment.

TestCountry: It sounds like working through your local affiliates allows you to make direct impacts on people's lives.

Mr. Lindsey: Absolutely. We received a phone call from a woman in California on behalf of her family, who told us that NCADD referred them to a treatment center that educated and engaged the family, ultimately providing them with what they needed and resulting in giving them back their mother. Phone calls like that one are very rewarding.

TestCountry: What types of services can an individual find through these affiliates?

Mr. Lindsey: They provide a variety of services, including community education, prevention programs in communities and schools, professional training, drinking and driving programs, employee assistance programs, outpatient treatment or residential housing, and recovery support. They are engaged in policy and advocacy work at local, state, and national levels, and have a great wealth of experience. Some have been around for up to 50 years, and are often staffed by dedicated volunteers.

TestCountry: I see that we are getting close to the end of the interview, so I would like to close by referencing a recent interview you gave regarding Lindsey Lohan and your professional opinion on her ability to rebound from her addictions. In a case that many see as “lost,” you alternatively see as filled with potential. What are some of the keys to someone being successful in their recovery?

Mr. Lindsey: Lindsey Lohan's story is a great example of what our organization is up against, which is the media sensationalizing a story and turning it into a feeding frenzy of sorts, which creates a lot of bad publicity and misunderstandings about people living with alcohol and drug dependency. They focus on all the negative aspects—her legal, financial, family, and health troubles. But, it operates like any other chronic disease—it is chronic, progressive, genetically predisposed, and potentially fatal. When treated appropriately by people with training an individual's chances for recovery are good or better than they are for many other chronic diseases. The hopeful and positive side of the story is just never focused on. In terms of creating opportunity for recovery, the first and foremost goal should be getting the addict and their family to someone who is specifically trained and successful in treating the disease. With alcoholism and addiction, the people who we regularly turn to for help are often inexperienced. Psychiatrists, doctors, and clergymen all do not necessarily have experience with drug and alcohol dependence, which is why we emphasize the important of finding trained professionals who can help. I am happy to say that in the last year, over 730,000 people called NCADD or their affiliates looking for just that kind of help.

On that uplifting statistic, our interview reached its end. You can find more information on the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence online at www.ncadd.org. There you can find resources for parents, youth, and for people already in recovery, along with a tool for locating an affiliate near you.

About The Author

Grace Fisher has experience in childcare and working with teens, specifically in promoting positive lifestyle choices through healthy eating, exercise, and open communication. She believes that educating the public on the dangers of alcohol and drug dependence in particular is necessary in order to help people make safe and informed decisions in their lives due to the level of misinformation she has seen deeply effect entire lives.


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