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Clinics offering addicts prizes for staying clean

NEW YORK -- There are worse things you can do for money than stay off drugs.

''And I've done them, too," said Allen Price, a 43-year-old methamphetamine addict who lives in Oakland, Calif.

So when a friend told him about a 12-week program in San Francisco that would pay him as much as $40 per week just to stay clean, he decided it was just what he needed.

For five weeks since, he has trekked to a clinic several times a week to submit a urine sample, and to pick up a few dollars for testing negative.

''What appealed to me was the positiveness of it," he said. ''It is a motivation."

The idea of paying people to stay clean has caught on around the country amid a body of research indicating that the practice can help keep addicts off drugs.

Smokers in a two-year study at the University of Florida can get vouchers redeemable at Target, Wal-Mart, or if they pass a test on whether they have had a cigarette.

A study of 415 cocaine and methamphetamine users published in October in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that they stayed in treatment longer if they had a chance to win a prize.

Dr. Lisa A. Marsch, a researcher with the National Development and Research Institutes Inc., runs a program at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York that offers teenagers medication, counseling, and vouchers for testing clean for drugs such as heroin.

Teens in Marsch's program must submit three urine samples a week. Patients who pass get a voucher that can be used to buy something. The amounts increase with every clean result. A person who is drug-free for two months could make as much as $596 in all.

Cigarettes or alcohol cannot be bought with the vouchers. But almost any other purchase is allowed. The catch is that if the patient tests positive, the next clean sample will be worth only the minimum, or $2.50.

Research found that teenagers getting the vouchers stay clean at rates 20 percent to 30 percent higher than with counseling and medication alone, Marsch said.

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