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Drug Treatment: GAO Study Reveals Abuse Allegations, Deaths at Residential Treatment Programs

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #505)
Consequences of Prohibition
Drug War Issues

The first federal look at "boot camps," wilderness programs, and similar programs aimed at troubled youth, including those sent away because of drug use, has found widespread allegations of abuse at such facilities. The Government Accountability Office study released Wednesday also examined 10 cases where teens died in those programs.

According to the study, in 2005 alone, 1,619 allegations of abuse were made against such residential treatment facilities. "GAO could not identify a more concrete number of allegations because it could not locate a single Web site, federal agency, or other entity that collects comprehensive nationwide data," the report noted.

The privately operated programs may or may not be subject to state regulation, depending on the state. There are no federal rules governing residential facilities for youth, something Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, may be preparing to change, but not quite yet.

"This nightmare has remained an open secret for years," Miller said in a statement. "Congress must act, and it must act swiftly." He has sponsored a bill designed to encourage states to enact regulations.

The GAO examined 10 cases between 1990 and 2004 where teens died at those facilities. Three of the victims were placed in the facilities by their parents because of their drug use.

In one case, a 16-year-old girl was sent to wilderness survival school because of depression and her parent's fears about her drug use. Her parents paid $25,000 to the facility operators, and $4,000 more to a "transportation service" who dragged her from her bed at 4am and deposited her in the middle of a hike in the Utah desert. The girl died three days later of heatstroke.

In the second drug treatment-related fatality, a 16-year-old boy was sent to a wilderness survival school because of his parents' concern about "minor drug use, academic underachievement, and association with a new peer group that was having a negative impact on him." He died of a perforated ulcer 31 days into the 90-day, $18,000 program after program staff ignored his repeated collapses and pleas for help.

In the third case, a 15-year-girl placed in a wilderness program because of a history of drug use and mental problems died of dehydration and heat exhaustion before her parents even made it back home. When they arrived upon their return from dropping off their daughter, a phone message from the facility awaited them. There had been an accident, the message said. But instead, the girl died after repeatedly collapsing on a strenuous hike.

Each year thousands of teenagers are referred for drug treatment, even after being caught once smoking marijuana. The drug czar uses teen drug treatment figures to argue that marijuana is a serious problem, but doesn't mention that most teens "seeking" treatment for marijuana are ordered there by courts or schools. Nor does he mention that when it comes to treatment facilities like those examined by the GAO, the cure can be infinitely worse than the disease.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

All of the above-mentioned tragedies I am sure, are more than likely an underestimation of the number of fatalities that occur at those damnable facilities. I doubt if anyone is really keeping track. After all, they are drug users and do not deserve even a shred of compassion.
Of course, we all know that "compassionate conservatism" counts those deaths, injuries and physcic damage as positive results. They would pick a number (usually a large number and one that cannot be verified) that represents all the youngsters who have been "saved" from a life of recreational drug use and all that implies. Of course the implications of drug use stand somewhere between sticking a gun in one's ear and pulling the trigger to leading a non-productive, trouble-making life.
The fees that are charged by these Auswitch institutions pretty much tell the whole story. Why they exist and will continue to.

Sat, 10/13/2007 - 11:03pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

If the people posting actually read the links or attended the hearings, they would have discovered that several of the deaths occurred at NATSAP programs and NATSAP does not police its members.

There are no safe programs in an unregulated industry: safety requires oversight and checks and balances.

Tue, 04/01/2008 - 8:49pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

why do we not try different programs what are we trying to do to the youth look at utah's program very sucessful!!!

Sat, 04/26/2008 - 9:23pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

If anyone would take the time to read the related studies they would find that:

1. Alcoholism, which includes all drugs (legallity is irrelevant) was long ago recognized as a disease.
You can't "bully" someone out of alcoholism any more than you can bully them out of diabetes. Variations on this type of behavior modification model have been around since the 60's and have never had any noteworthy success.
2. To this point, the only method with any sigificant success rate is the utilization of the 12 step model. And even then, success rates on first attempt patients is modest at best.

The camps, houses, etc., of the type described above, are no more than huge money making opportunities for greedy, immoral, vultures, capitalizing on the fear and desperation of misinformed or uninformed parents. The programs that have had any kind of success are deeply routed in the 12 step approach to recovery. Boot camps are a very dangerous and extreme attempt to scare the disease out of a teen. Get help from an appropriately educated (MS or PhD), and licensed professional. Not drill sargeants. Parents, please do the research.

Mon, 05/26/2008 - 2:54am Permalink

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