Silver Welcomes Marathoners from Italian Substance Use Therapeutic Community

SanPa runners near the finish line. Photo credit:

On Friday November 1, students and faculty gathered in the Parlor at 1 WSN for a lunch reception to honor visiting residents from San Patrignano (SanPa), a therapeutic community (TC) in Italy for the treatment of substance use problems. Our guests were members of SanPa’s running team, here to participate in Sunday’s ING New York City Marathon. (Read the New York Times story about them here.) They were accompanied by Dr. Antonio Boschini, a former resident of the community who went on to earn his medical degree from the University of Verona, and now oversees SanPa’s state-of-the-art, on-campus medical facility.

SanPa’s services are completely free, and it stresses the importance of learning work skills to internalize positive self-image and improve relationships with individuals and society. Residents work in one of the facility’s many sectors, which include woodworking and design workshops, an award-winning vineyard, equine and canine rescue, and the medical center.

Following the lunch, an informal roundtable discussion began, with bilingual residents helping with English/Italian translation. Mike, an American resident of SanPa who just "graduated" from the program, said it was ultimately the only rehabilitation model that worked for him. He spoke of being able to "put on masks" and fool his doctors and therapists in the treatments he tried in the United States: "I’m not able to wear that mask at SanPa. It helped me wake up and realize I was losing time." Mike plans to return to the US this spring to begin his bachelor’s in Social Work.

Dr. Boschini detailed the mission of SanPa, which he described as a "secular open community, free to all, where the only requirement for admission is a real motivation to change." Boschini doesn’t consider addiction a disease or chronic affliction: "The addict who enters the community is a normal human being who needs help learning to work, study, and relate to others." He stressed the non-theoretical, relational emphasis of SanPa, in which change is built slowly over time. Indeed, the average length of stay at the facility is three-to-four years, nearly double the length of similar American TCs, which run 18 to 24 months. And this extended duration may play a role in SanPa’s extraordinary success rate: a 2005 study found that of residents who completed the entire program (70% completion rate), 70% remained drug-free after four years. (Learn more at

SanPa served as the global learning site for last summer’s “International Perspectives on Substance Use Problems and Treatment Models: An Italian Approach,” taught by Professor Lala Straussner. 

Kayla Butler, an Advanced Standing student in the Substance Abuse Focused Learning Opportunity (FLO), participated in the course and organized the reception. She and other students from the class reminisced about their experiences at SanPa, and wished the runners “buona fortuna” on their marathon. The runners seemed calm, quiet and intensely focused on the challenge awaiting them on Sunday. But Dr. Boschini put the task into perspective saying, "We’ve come to New York to run the marathon, but it’s not the only marathon of our lives."