Monday, November 21, 2016

Affluenza Anonymous

Tall, lean, and lantern-jawed, Jamison Monroe Jr. could pass for a third Winklevoss brother. His childhood in Texas, as he recalls it, was a series of misadventures with addiction: pretending to have ADHD in ninth grade to get Adderall; getting booted from his Houston prep school; being arrested five times and cycling through four rehabs, all with no real effect. He was a spoiled rich kid, the namesake of a prominent Houston financier. “I had such low self-esteem and such severe depression that drugs and alcohol worked,” Monroe says. Until, of course, they didn’t. “I did self-harm, cutting myself, burning myself, contemplating suicide. Plus a lot more cocaine, a lot more drinking, blacking out a lot more. Everything just got progressively worse and worse.”

Even at his life’s darkest moments, young Jamison had something available to him that thousands of other people don’t: seemingly limitless access to wealth. Despite going through a divorce, his parents could afford to help him through his DUIs and expulsions and send him anywhere in the world to get better. In 2006, after a host of false starts and detours, including a therapeutic wilderness program, he found the right place for him—a 30-day, $2,200-a-day program in Malibu with a full team of specialists drilling down into the root causes of his addictions. “I had a primary therapist, I had a family therapist, I had a recovery counselor, I had a spiritual therapist,” Monroe says. Slipping easily into the patois of recovery, he explains that the real culprit behind his drug use was a lack of self-worth that all the money in the world couldn’t help him overcome; all that overflowing privilege, he suggests, may have been part of the problem. “The focus was on my negative self-beliefs, which stem from early childhood—this feeling of not being good enough.”

When he emerged from the program he was 25, with no college degree, no career, and no obvious prospects. Six months later, Monroe came up with a startup idea. He went to his father and asked for the money to open a drug rehab facility of his own. It would have been comical if it weren’t also poignant: What do you do if you’re a young, rich screw-up who wants to help other young, rich screw-ups? Ask Dad to buy you a rehab.

Jamison Monroe Sr. let his son down gently. “It’s not happening at this point,” he said. But what both understood, after so much exposure to so many addiction treatment services, was that opening a rehab center in America is practically as easy as opening a fast-food franchise. From the research he’d done since getting out of rehab, Monroe knew that of the 10,000 or so behavioral health-care providers in this country, more than 90 percent are single operators, mom and pops. A large number of those are started by people in recovery themselves. You don’t need to be a doctor to start one; you just have to hire a qualified staff.

One more thing made the rehab business appealing: The demand for treatment constantly overwhelms supply. So many providers are springing up so quickly that quality varies wildly, and regulation and oversight are spotty. Many rehabs avoid regulation entirely by being what the industry calls “sober houses,” where the license sits not with the residence but with the professionals doing the clinical work. Monroe spent a year starting a sober house for an investor friend, in part to prove to his father that he was serious. “When I showed him that I had basically broke even the first two months of operations with a shoestring budget, that gave him enough confidence to say, ‘OK, yes.’ ”

In the spring of 2009, a few months after Monroe’s 28th birthday, Newport Academy opened the doors of a six-bed rehab facility for adolescent girls in a spacious house on a residential street in the hills of Orange County, a horsy suburban neighborhood miles away from the more glitzy, Real Housewives-ready Laguna Beach. This house came to be known as the Ranch—a one-floor Spanish modern on 3 acres of arid California hillside. A few months later, Monroe opened a second location in another house not too far away, for six boys. These rehabs were more regulated than sober houses, licensed as group homes by the California Department of Social Services. Anxious to establish a serious pedigree, Monroe appointed David Smith, founder of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics of San Francisco, as his medical director. Smith, who stayed four years before leaving Newport Academy in 2013, says he was glad to help start a facility that “demonstrates that you can successfully treat adolescents. For adolescents, just talking about how bad drugs are, that isn’t going to do it. They have to find positive alternatives.”

Monroe was alone in the Orange County marketplace, without any serious competition. “There were teen treatment centers in L.A.,” he says, “but you had 6 million people between Orange and San Diego counties and nothing for them.” He also stood out for the sheer opulence and pampering he provided his young patients. The Ranch’s nickname may make it seem rustic, approachable, back-to-the-land, but its parlor has four ornate chandeliers. Its grounds have a rose garden and stables. There’s an on-site gym for mixed martial arts, yoga, meditation, and dance and movement therapy. There’s art therapy, cinema therapy (watching and discussing movies), and an on-site chef offering organic nutritional counseling and cooking classes. Newport Academy’s staff-to-client ratio is 4 to 1—not counting the horses that each resident is given regular time with for equine-assisted psychotherapy. At $40,000 a month, there may be no other teenage rehab in America that, at first glance, seems more like Canyon Ranch. “What’s the price on a kid’s life?” Monroe said in an interview a few years ago about the cost of Newport Academy. “If you’re a parent of a child, there’s no price tag you can put on that.”

by Robert Kolker, Bloomberg | Read more:
Image: Simone Lueck