SHALOM House calls itself the “most effective” drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre in the world, but an investigation by Community News has revealed the Swan Valley facility appears to have one of the worst success rates in the country.
The founder of the faith-based, cold turkey rehab, Peter Lyndon-James, has claimed a success rate of 80 per cent for participants who complete the so-called “tough love” program
But the Community News investigation has revealed that only about 49 residents have officially “graduated” out of the estimated 300 to 400 people who have been in the program since it started in 2012.
Based on those numbers, the proportion of residents who have managed to complete the Shalom House program might be as low as 12 per cent.
Experts in the drug and alcohol field say that the average completion rate of people in publicly-funded residential rehabilitation services across the country is about 35 per cent – almost three times the apparent rate at Shalom House.
And if you apply Mr Lyndon-James’ claimed, but unsubstantiated, “success” rate to those 49 men – the 80 per cent of graduates who don’t relapse – you end up with just 39 “successes”.
Mr Lyndon-James, now a church pastor with a colourful backstory of drug addiction and crime, has campaigned on a slogan of “honesty, integrity, accountability, transparency”, but he has not responded to requests by CNG over the past three weeks to dispute the investigation findings.
However, on May 3 he took to Facebook, telling his supporters that he didn’t give “two bits of hogley pop about stats and figures”.
And it hasn’t stopped Mr Lyndon-James continuing to promote Shalom House as the global leader in the rehabilitation field and gather signatures for a petition calling on WA Premier Mark McGowan to join forces to roll out the Shalom program across the nation.
“Why is it that I can run the largest and most effective rehabilitation program on the planet, at no cost to anyone, yet not one member from the Government will give me the time of day,” Mr Lyndon-James wrote on Facebook.
“It’s just a shame the State Government won’t listen and refuses to even look at our program even though it far surpasses anything they have in place.
“The State Government continues to pour taxpayers’ money into ineffective solutions under the guise of ‘tackling the meth scourge’, yet they refuse to look into models which have proven to work.
“I believe if the Government works with me that together the program that we have developed can be rolled out across Australia.”
The Community News analysis of the controversial rehab centre’s success rate is based on public statements by Mr Lyndon-James, evidence given to the State Administrative Tribunal and many posts on the Shalom House Facebook page.
In March 2016, Mr Lyndon-James told the Australian Bible Society’s Eternity online news service that in Shalom House’s first four years of operation just 13 men had completed the program out of the 128 who had signed on.
In March 2018, the State Administrative Tribunal, which was hearing a planning appeal, was told that 34 people had graduated and that 220 had left or been expelled.
Since then, Community News has tracked another 15 graduations, with the last one occurring in February, giving the grand total of 49 in seven years of Shalom’s operations.
Another issue identified in the Community News investigation is the time that it takes for men to complete the program. Residents who sign up have to commit to stay for 12 months, but in many cases identified over the past 18 months no-one has graduated inside 12 months and some men took two to three years to finish the program.
The average length of stay in publicly funded residential rehab in Australia is between 30 and 90 days, making Shalom House very much an outlier.
Since Shalom House was featured on the ABC’s Australian Story in April 2017, the program has come under scrutiny by addiction experts who questioned Shalom’s success rate, saying it was anecdotal at best.
The WA Mental Health Commission requested Shalom House to substantiate its claims but has yet to receive any information or results of an evaluation of the program.
Last year Edith Cowan University researchers offered to undertake a free assessment of the five-stage program, and Mr Lyndon-James announced publicly that it was happening, but ECU has confirmed to Community News that Shalom House has yet to take up the offer.
National Drug Research Institute professor Nicole Lee said she would be “very cautious” of a service that claimed such a high success rate, with the completion rate at residential rehab services around 35 per cent with a length of stay of 30 to 90 days.
“Dependence is a complex chronic problem, not unlike diabetes, heart disease and obesity,” Professor Lee said.
“The research suggests that around three months of treatment is effective for most people, some may need a little more and some a little less.
“People tend to do better in shorter bursts of treatment of a few months at a time with some follow-up.
“Three years would be an inordinately long time to be in treatment, and in my view unnecessary for most people.
“The dropout rate would be high.”
Professor Lee said the relapse rates for alcohol and other drug problems was around 40 to 60 per cent, particularly if there is no post-treatment support in place.
“So if you put someone in rehab and then just send them out into the world ‘fixed’ at least half of them are likely to relapse,” she said.
Odyssey House Victoria chief executive and psychologist Dr Stefan Gruenert said it was misleading to only include people who complete a program when claiming outcomes, and it was imperative that rehabs could provide evidence for their results.
“Anyone who is confident in their model and committed to ongoing improvements should be open to a high level of scrutiny,” Dr Gruenert said.
“That’s just a good healthy service.
“Any modern service also needs to be able to integrate with the broader system, and make appropriate referrals if you are no longer able to help someone.”
Professor Lee applauded innovation in treatment but said the sector abandoned the “tough love” model decades ago.
“Tough love is a bit of a leftover from the 1950s when the main thinking was that people who had alcohol or other drug problems had some kind of moral deficiency,” she said.
“Really, the idea that this approach would fix any type of problem seems a little crazy now.
“We now know that approach is not effective – and it can even do harm – and I don’t know anyone in mainstream treatment who would use that approach these days.
“We need innovation but if a service isn’t going to use an evidence-based approach, it is essential meaningful clinical outcomes are measured.
“Not just throughput, but success rates in terms of sustained outcomes.
“Without proper follow-up of participants after they leave, there is no way anyone can say what the success rate really is.”
Professor Steve Allsop from Curtin University’s National Drug Research Institute said it was difficult to make judgement and compare individual services.
“Different kinds of people with different levels of problem complexity are attracted to different services,” Professor Allsop said.
“However, completion rates should include calculations using admissions – simply looking at outcomes for all those who finished will not give a full picture.”
— If you or someone you know needs help call Lifeline WA on 13 11 14, 24 hours a day or dial 000 if life is in danger.
Alcoholics Anonymous 24 Hour ‘Helpline’ 08 9325 3566 or 1300 22 22 22
Narcotics Anonymous 08 9227 8361
Alcohol and Drug Support Line 08 9442 5000 (Metro), 1800 198 024 (Country).