Addiction: Buying the Cure at Passages Malibu | News | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
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Addiction: Buying the Cure at Passages Malibu 

At upscale "rehab," all you need is faith. And $67,000 a month

Wednesday, Jun 25 2008
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Besides contradicting the AMA, Prentiss also maintains a one-sided propaganda war with Alcoholics Anonymous.He fuels this by espousing numerous dubious claims against the organization. For instance, he says that A.A. “is only open to those who are willing to publicly declare themselves to be alcoholics or addicts and who are willing to give up their inherent right of independence by declaring themselves powerless over addictive drugs and alcohol.”

In fact, A.A. simply states in its 3rd Tradition: “The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.” Prentiss knows that A.A. has no official spokesperson to rebut his claims.

He also tells me that “only 5 percent of the people who go to A.A. ever come back again.” When I ask where he had learned this number, he replies, “From A.A.’s own Web site.” A complete search of the Alcoholics Anonymous Web site reveals no such statistic.

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“Do you know what the first step is?” he asks me with an impish grin. “That you are powerless. How silly. We’re not powerless!”

When I point out that his son Pax was certainly powerless when he was battling addiction for 10 years, he shoots back, “Well, he’s not powerless now!”

Prentiss excuses himself to take an important conference call. He and Pax move to their adjoining desks, don electronic phone headsets and stare straight ahead into space like the pilot and co-pilot of a contemporary Spruce Goose preparing for takeoff. Upon contact with the other party, Prentiss begins berating the poor bastards. While I only hear half of the story, the theme is apparent: The operators of the 800 phone service for ordering his books are not closing the sale on customers at a high enough rate. I am ushered out of the office by Prentiss’ chagrined assistant, as father and son yell into space.

Jeannie J. is a 45-year-old divorced heiress who had headaches. Really bad headaches, it seems. Her befuddled doctors back in Wichita prescribed her higher and higher doses of painkillers until she was finally hooked on OxyContin. In a madcap medical merry-go-round, her addiction led the doctors to prescribe her methadone to get her off the original drug. After she attempted suicide, her concerned family sent her toPassages.

“I was on methadone for four and a half months,” Jeannie whispers into the phone from her four-star hotel residence in Beverly Hills. “And when I got there, they said, you know, we don’t get people off of methadone. They did it [to me] cold-turkey and that was extremely hard. I had to go to the hospital two weeks into it.”

The hospital administered shots of buprenorphine. Employees from Passages arrived later and took her back to the rehab, where she remained for three months.

“My back nerve endings are dead from it. I’ve had back pain ever since,” she tells me.

Jeannie is no simple country gal. The petite bleached blonde has a B.A. in fine arts from the University of Kansas. A mother of two girls, Jeannie comes from family money and married a wealthy man in the import/export business. When their marriage splintered, so did her stability. She spiraled deeper and deeper into a suicidal abyss.

“I was [at Passages] for three months in 2003, then I went home and came back for a month and a half. I spent over a quarter of a million,” she declares matter-of-factly.

Jeannie did return to Wichita, but she was not alone. A Passages-assigned companion, at a rate of $60 an hour for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, stayed with her for two months. When she mentioned in passing that she missed drinking wine, she was hustled back to Passages for an additional month and a half.

“The doctor there, Dr. Emory, he did help people with headaches though. He gave me Adderall. He still gives me that. He also gives me Suboxone and Neurontin.”

Jeannie now lives alone in a swanky but lonely hotel on Doheny Drive. On some nights, she actually gets dressed to go out but then realizes she doesn’t have the nerve and retreats.

“At night, I drink champagne because of the pain, but I want to try and quit doing that,” she tells me with some hope in her voice.

After spending a quarter of a million dollars at Passages, Jeannie now realizes, “There is no cure, I know that now. So I don’t get what they’re saying.”

And she’s not alone. Billy N. is a blond 28-year-old who resembles the late Heath Ledger. He’s the cool kid from the sticks outside Kansas City, the one who read Burroughs, Nietzsche and Kerouac in the seventh grade. The one who can’t wait to leave home, who starts taking drugs at an early age to help expedite matters.

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