This profile was prepared when Jacek Alaba was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1995.
The New Idea
As it does worldwide, drug addiction and the concurrent threat of HIV/AIDS transmission weighs upon Polish society, made worse by the high rate of re-addiction that follows conventional treatment programs. Jacek Alaba has developed an alternative treatment program that focuses especially on reducing the risk of relapse. It is based upon his insight that treated addicts resume their drug usage because they haven't learned how to cope with the stresses that trigger their addictive reactions. To fill this gap, Jacek has developed a community-based program that places recovering addicts in real-life situations while providing them with individualized treatment programs devised by a team of mental health workers, vocational trainers and peer counselors. A patient is housed in one of the Warsaw apartments or houses run by Jacek's organization and is supervised by peer counselors. While in the program, patients are expected to manage their own maintenance–cooking their own meals, washing the dishes, cleaning. They are also expected to pay rent and hold a job. While in treatment, a patient's day is structured to include individual and group counseling and vocational training. When patients find it difficult to cope, they have the opportunity to work with counselors. Jacek's program seeks to give its patients insights into their own addiction "trigger mechanisms" and the skills and inner strength they will need to resist drugs. He does, however, augment his program with follow-up contact with patients who have completed treatment. Jacek's drug treatment program has a community-development dimension as well. He trains his patients in the skills required to renovate buildings in need of rehabilitation, which the government makes available to him. The project gives the patient a job, he or she learns job skills of use after leaving treatment, the buildings become available as housing for patients and economically depressed neighborhoods are renovated in the process.