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Buying the Cure at Passages, Malibu: June 27, 2008

And then what happened? Well, I’ll tell you.

After my article “Buying the Cure” came out in late June, I was inundated with calls, e-mails and letters from ex-employees, former clients and disgruntled parents detailing additional horrors regarding Chris and Pax Prentiss and their “addiction cure” facility. When a major law firm researching a class-action suit against Chris Prentiss contacted me, I figured his days were numbered.

With mass marketing nothing could be further from the truth. After a brief lull, Chris Prentiss seemed to be everywhere. Most disturbing was seeing the elfin white-haired huckster hawking his “cure” on CNN just milliseconds before the historic speeches of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama from the convention in Denver. There on the screen was Prentiss holding up his latest self-published book: “Don’t go through another holiday season with someone addicted to drugs or alcohol,” he hyped. “Read my book, The Alcoholism and Addiction Cure. To get it, call: (888) THE CURE.”

The ads continue to this day. Apparently the Cure King has money to burn.

“Right now we’re spending about 30 percent of our money on television,” said Prentiss in a recent video interview for Google Inc., “and we’re spending the rest of the money on Internet advertising.”

While I didn’t hear from Prentiss himself after the story ran, I did hear from a loyal employee.

Audrey Hope has been the “spiritual counselor” at Passages for six years. As one of her bios states, “Audrey believes we are magical light beings with the power of the Gods. She utilizes meditation, visualization, inner child and energy work and the knowing that we are powerful light beings with gifts beyond the five senses.”

Her letter to me was not so light: Here are excerpts from a letter I received from the spiritual counselor: “I don’t know what it must be like to be you. Truly. To have a job that involves selling your soul, in order to be known and make money. ... I know in my heart of hearts that somewhere, somehow you will pay a price. SHAME ON YOU. I am so happy I am not you.”

This excerpt from a mother in Palo Alto was more typical: “I just wanted to thank you for having the guts to investigate the recovery scene in Malibu. My son spent three months at [a facility] and the place was a nightmare. It was 30,000 a month, and it turned out to be a total sham. Most of the residents were drugged to the gills. My son was on 15 different medicines. I am so thankful you have taken the steps to uncover a very flawed system.”

This excerpt from the Clare Foundation, a Santa Monica rehab, was more socially relevant: “We truly appreciate your eloquent words about our organization and the services we provide for those recovering from alcoholism and substance abuse. We hope that your article will help raise general awareness that addiction is a disease and is responsible for many contemporary social and economic issues.”

Unfortunately, with the expiration of Proposition 36 and the crushing defeat of Proposition 5, treatment versus incarceration as a social objective is now in serious limbo.

Addiction is an incurable disease. We should not be jailing the diseased.

Providing treatment rather than jail time and regulating the rehabs is a far better goal.

From “Buying the Cure: At Passages Malibu, All You’ve Got to Do Is Believe — and Pay $67,000 a Month” by Mark Groubert

“The Prentiss duo,” explained [CNN’s Brooke Anderson, in April 2007], “claim a success rate of better than 80 percent. ... They reject the decades-old 12-step program and proudly defy scientific studies about addiction. Doctors, scientists say addiction is a disease. You say it’s not.” “I know it’s not,” Pax stated bluntly.

“When you send patients home, what do you say to them?” Anderson asked. Young and old Prentiss almost in unison: “You’re cured. Totally.” ...

[Passages’] former medical director is having none of it: “I will tell you one thing about Chris Prentiss, he is the consummate Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus-barker showman.” ...

“Prentiss starts throwing that number around, the 85 percent cure rate. The thing that’s hard to believe is that he sticks to the story,” says Stuart R. ... I ask him how long the cure lasted when he left Passages the first time.

“I got loaded the same day.”