By Thomas R. Collins
Behind the signs of protest, the prospect of an expensive legal fight and contentious city commission meetings, there is something that’s even more desperate: people trying to figure out how to kick a crippling habit.
The patients targeted by Caron Treatment Center’s Ocean Drive program — in which they would live in million dollar houses near the beach and receive treatment at another location in Boca Raton — would include high-level executives with big money to spend on treatment. But a big bank account doesn’t mean their addiction problems are any less serious, people in the recovery business say.
“Regardless of the level of your education or the type of car you drive, or where you reside, or how much money you make, no one is exempt,” said Lori Kearse, clinical director at The Palm Beach Institute, a treatment center in West Palm Beach.
Having money, in fact, can sometimes makes matters more complicated, she said, since it just makes it that much easier for an addict to pay for whatever it is he’s addicted to.
“Having tangible luxury does not support recovery at all,” she said. “I don’t believe it’s counter to it, but it certainly doesn’t support it.”
The treatment process — and the specific approach for the patients that Caron is hoping to treat in the Ocean Drive program — has been largely overlooked as the struggle among Caron, homeowners and city commissioners has become more and more heated and political.
People in the program would be participating in much the same kind of treatment as addicts everywhere: an intensive review to identify the specific problems that need to be overcome; a large family component with regular meetings with loved ones either in person or over the phone to repair broken relationships; individual and group therapy sessions; doctor visits; and recreation.
The program will also include a “step-down” phase that’s less intense but meant to give patients the structure they need to stay clean — which ordinarily might involve living in one of the many halfway houses in the Delray Beach area, but, in Ocean Drive’s case, will usually happen back in the patient’s hometown.
Staying connected with a treatment program is key to long-term success, experts say.
“It’s just a fact that people who have continuous treatment care, the greater the chance of staying clean,” said Laura Lee Chapman, who runs several halfway houses in Palm Beach County.
And the decision to seek treatment, while a major hurdle cleared, is no magic bullet for recovery.
“We know the first go-round the number is small,” Kearse said. “However, most people will go back through a second time. The second time going through treatment increases the chances of long-term recovery.”
In late February, the city denied Caron’s “reasonable accommodation” request to house up to seven people in a house on Sea Breeze Avenue. Unless Caron provides evidence of the therapeutic value of having that many recovering people living together, Caron will be limited to no more than three clients in the house.
But group sessions of between seven and 30 or 40 people, treatment experts say, is often where the bulk of the recovery work is done. A peer might be much more likely to drive a point home than a treatment professional.
And at home, having a significant number of people around can be an important ingredient in staying social and focused on keeping clean, they say.
“There’s a lot of recovery going on 24 hours a day,” Kearse said.
A Webcam operator — who provides, to interested area residents, a live feed of the exterior of the Ocean Drive program home on SeasprayAvenue — writes on the site that “rehab should not be a vacation.”
Treatment center directors counter that relaxing and having fun is a big part of any treatment process.
“The recreation component is huge,” Kearse said. “They’ve got to get back to finding things that bring them joy.”
The Florida and California sunshine has long been a key ingredient in getting people to give treatment a try, said Adi Jaffe, a Los Angeles-based addiction psychologist who runs allaboutaddiction.com.
“It’s hard to sell people on luxury when you’re frozen under half of the year,” he said.
In the Ocean Drive program, patients would participate in kayaking, yoga, tai chi and meditative walks along the beach. If the components are largely the same for the high-end Ocean Drive client as they are for poorer clients, why do the wealthy need their own program at all?
One reason is pretty simple, said Drew Rothermel, Caron’s president of Florida operations. Clients won’t seek treatment without a residential environment similar to the one they’re used to, he said.
Patients in Ocean Drive would have their own bedroom-bathroom suite, and eat meals, including lunch, at the home-like facility. Transportation to the treatment center would be provided.
Rothermel said a typical comment from the high-level client is, “I’m not eating in a cafeteria and sleeping with a roommate for a month. I’m just not doing it.”
For the same reason, he said, the Ocean Drive program isn’t interested in attracting celebrities.
“If you put a train-wreck celebrity in with a bunch of CEO-level executives, it will take apart the group,” he said.
He said another way in which the Ocean Drive program would be different is that more work will have to be done to repair family ties, which, he said, often involve much more complex dynamics among the wealthy.
Also, time would be set aside for participation in business activities, such as participating in meetings by phone, Rothermel said.
Patients would not have access to credit cards and bank cards while in treatment, he said.
Ocean Drive would cost at least $55,000 a month, with the average stay two to three months, Caron officials say.
If a patient relapses, they may not be immediately kicked out of the program; it would depend on the circumstances, especially the patient’s overall attitude, he said.
Kearse said a stay of 90 to 120 days is ideal “even longer if the individual has the resources.”
Kearse said that, in the end, it is neither easier nor more difficult for the affluent to get clean.
“It really is the internal drive,” she said. “The internal willingness of the addict to follow the recommendations from the experts on how do you treat this addiction.”