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Make the Addicts Suffer!

Weird: Wall Street Journal ignores current data, experts, on rehab treatment –
turns to Ford-era drug expert and “spanking machine” supporter for advice.

A front-page story in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal spotlighted chic and spa-like rehabs, claiming that there are questions about “whether five star service and recovery mix.” According to unnamed “experts” there are “conflicts between recovery and luxury” because “Many of the 14,000 or so treatment centers in the U.S. adhere to guidelines that include an element of hard labor.”

But those guidelines are based on clinical myth, not data; in fact, the science-based treatments which the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment are trying to move into practice all focus on rewards and empathy rather than punishment and confrontation as ways of helping people recover. There is no data that supports harsh and humiliating treatment over kind, supportive care – and none that suggests that luxury services could hurt.

The Journal had to reach back to a National Institute on Drug Abuse director from the Ford and Nixon years to support its thesis. Robert Dupont told the journal that “Self-centeredness is the key to the addiction....To get well, they have to leave their ego behind."

Again, there is no data to show that reducing self-centeredness cuts addiction or that breaking down ego is helpful. In fact, counselors who try to break addicts with confrontational attacks have higher levels of relapse and dropout amongst clients than those who are kind and empathetic.

The Journal didn’t mention that DuPont was a long-time supporter and paid consultant to Straight Inc., a notoriously tough rehab which thought that gagging teenagers with Kotex, forcing them to stay awake for 72 hours at a time, calling girls “sluts” and boys “fags” and making them hit each other in a “spanking machine” was appropriate treatment for teen drug users.

DuPont once said of Straight:

“To be blunt, I have spent 15 years working in the drug-abuse field, traveling to more than 20 countries and visiting hundreds of prevention programs. Straight, Inc. is the best drug-abuse treatment program I have seen. Lest there be any doubt that this is an accolade I have bestowed easily or casually, I can tell you that I have not said that about any other program.”

Could the Journal really not find an academic addictions researcher willing to comment on luxury rehabs, or get a comment from NIDA’s current head, who is featured this week in Newsweek? Or, as is far more probable, did such contacts give quotes that didn’t support the article’s outdated thesis?

Moreover, is there any other disease in which better treatment is seen as a problem? The real problem here is the writer’s unquestioned assumption that addiction is a moral, not a medical issue, which framed the piece in such a way that the actual research on the problem was ignored.