NPR Wildly Exaggerates Studies to say Paying Addicts Keeps them off Meth

UPDATE: A commenter provided the link that is broken on NPR’s article, here. [6] Some negative commenters have alleged we are in error, but in reviewing the study our central point is still correct: contingency management, even within the context of these studies, is not what works by itself. It works only in conjunction with other methods. [7] The NPR story is still in error and nothing in this study indicates our original reporting on this matter was wrong.

  • Almost every study says that ‘contingency management’ makes a small positive impact on addicts staying clean for a few extra weeks, NPR exaggerates to say that paying addicts works and should be tried everywhere
  • Link NPR provides to the study backing up their wild claims is laughably broken
  • Left-wing worldview once again at odds with actual science and what studies actually say, pretty obvious unethical reporter didn’t even bother to read them

OUR RATING: Major Negligence. MSNBC-level basic journalistic negligence

Indicted Outlet: April Dembosky | National Public Radio | Link | Archive | 9/30/21

If you notice anything with NPR, it is that they only things they consider are those that fit their extreme left views, and they very conspicuously avoid thoughts and consequences to the contrary. NPR is constitutionally incapable of considering alternative views, and that is once again clear in their recent article discussing California’s plan to pay drug addicts not to do drugs.

It’s kind of the perfect neoliberal meme, so you know it’s all make-believe: if only the too-little-taxed rich gave more of their evil money to the needy deserving poor, they wouldn’t be using drugs to cope with their existential angst about late-stage capitalism. 

Too bad all the studies involved show that the impact is marginal or minor at best, but you’d never know that from reading April Dembosky’s article.

Major Violations:

  • Opinion as Fact
  • Unbalanced
  • Misrepresentation
  • Statistics Abuse
  • Missing Context
  • Exaggeration

Here’s what Reporter Dembosky writes in NPR:

As overdoses and public health costs related to meth and cocaine continue to spiral in California, state officials are desperate for more effective treatment options and are pursuing legislation and appealing to federal regulators to make contingency management more widely available. Washington, Montana, and West Virginia are also exploring similar strategies.

Because studies show contingency management works. The principles of the treatment – positive reinforcement techniques, primarily – are used widely in weight loss, fitness programs, and in families, as parents coax their children into adopting good behaviors, rather than punishing them for poor behaviors.

Research shows contingency management is the most effective treatment for meth or cocaine addiction, especially when combined with other behavioral therapy.

The key phrase here is ‘contingency management’ when it comes to influencing behaviors. Another way of saying it that sounds less academic is to say positive consequences. 

But part of the missing context is that those positive consequences don’t have to be financial in nature, that’s just part of the legislative lobbying that is also a part of this piece. 

Lobbyist/Reporter Dembosky makes her motives pretty plain on the legislative front:

…state officials are desperate for more effective treatment options and are pursuing legislation and appealing to federal regulators to make contingency management more widely available. Washington, Montana, and West Virginia are also exploring similar strategies.

No doubt she’s been contacted and fed this story by someone looking to push and advance these stories. Probably a public relations flak for one of the treatment center chains that contracts with the government and stands to make out handsomely with new contracts.

The link to the supposed study that proves Dembosky’s point? Wait wait, don’t tell me: yea, that link’s as broken as her ethics. [1]

It’s the most central claim in her article and the link doesn’t work. I wish I was making this up.

Research shows contingency management is the most effective treatment for meth or cocaine addiction

Click it for yourself and see!


*This* is NPR.

I dug into the studies and literature myself and tried to find answers on the efficacy of ‘contingency management’ on meth addiction. 

Here’s again the standard that NPR set on the topic:

…studies show contingency management works.

Now, this method might positively impact weight loss, or smoking, or addiction, but it seems a bit too strong to just say it ‘works’ because that implies that other methods do not work and it also suggests that these methods work completely. 

When you say or write that something works, you usually don’t mean that it works a little bit. Or that it works to improve things a tad. Or that it makes a small impact on the margins. To write that a particular thing works is to say that it solves the problem at hand. It ‘works’ by being the solution to the problem.

The literature suggests that NPR Reporter Dembosky either does not understand the science and studies, or she was radically dishonest in her description of it. 

*This* is NPR.

Here are some of the relevant studies as they relate to meth addiction: 

The American Journal of Psychiatry in 2006 tested 113 people who were diagnosed with meth, and those who received a small benefit stayed in treatment and stayed off drugs for 5 weeks instead of the 3 weeks that was normal. [2]

A 2007 literature review said that contingency management was a ‘good candidate for inclusion’ and still noted that other non-financial similar practices were deployed to be positive feedback for not using drugs, and that there had not been relevant long-term studies. [3]

This 2019 study in Malaysia interviewed 7 meth addicts and asked them for about 45 minutes each whether they liked receiving free stuff when they didn’t do meth. They all said they liked the free stuff. [4]  

A 2020 literature review surveyed 27 studies. 20 of the 21 that reported their findings in a useful way found that there was a positive impact of ‘contingency management’ on outcomes. The extent of that benefit was not provided. [5] 

So the extent of the benefit of contingency management on meth addiction? Instead of addicts lasting just three weeks without relapsing, they might last two extra weeks. Meth is a horrible drug and that’s great and all, but that’s not nearly the same as what NPR wrote when they exaggerated saying that it works and exists as a standalone treatment to solve addiction. 

NPR wrote the left-wing fantasy of poor vulnerable drug addicts being helped by the big sweet neoliberal unicorn tooth fairies providing benevolent tax dollars to alleviate the stresses of capitalism, as backed up by the science which has spoken and is now closed to debate from anyone especially evil-bad conservatives! 

But once again, the mainstream media lied to us. It’s almost as though they don’t know how to do anything else, they’re compulsively dishonest, deceitful, and unethical. NPR and April Dembosky are addicted to lying in order to advance a political agenda.

OUR RATING: Major Negligence. MSNBC-level basic journalistic negligence


1 ] This is the link as provided by NPR’s article. We realize the link is broken. The point we are making is that the NPR article makes one central claim: that contingency management works, and then their own link does not work. So, this link is broken, but it is provided as evidence of what NPR provided their readers:
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