Celebrity Rehab: Kenickie's Legacy

By , Columnist
Forget sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Dr. Drew gives celebrities a new kind of fun - fake addictions, freak show television exposure, and dead end rehab.  

Following a popular four-series run on VH1, Celebrity Rehab is about to begin broadcasting its fifth series early this summer. The question is: is Dr. Drew's success rate at bringing celebrities to a new, clean life high enough for anyone to take him seriously? Or should the show's millions of viewers take a look at the cold, hard facts - the recent drug-related deaths of two of his former celebrity patients - and change the channel?

Jeff Conaway, best known for his portrayal of Kenickie in the 1978 hit movie Grease, died on Friday as a result of his addiction to prescription pain killers - a severe addiction that Dr. Drew had two opportunities to treat. Mike Starr, bassist for rock band Alice in Chains, also a very public patient of "one of the most listened to doctors in America" died in March. Although the cause of his death is yet to be determined, it is thought that he took a deadly concoction of drugs.

Of course, many rehab stories do not end happily ever after.  You can't blame the doctor if the patient won't take the cure. According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse, relapse rates are between 40 and 60 percent. Even if you take the worst outcome then at least 15 of Dr. Drew's 37 Celebrity Rehab cast members to date should be living clean and sober.

Concrete examples of Dr. Drew's success rates are mysteriously hard to find. Neither Dr. Drew's nor the Celebrity Rehab websites are prepared to showcase actual case studies that justify their brand of 'entertaining' rehab. If he really wants to "pull back the veil of secrecy about what goes on in rehabilitation programs" as he claims he does, then why not display their results in black and white?

Research into each of the former show cast members seem to show that around eight are currently winning their battle with addiction. That demonstrates a Celebrity Rehab relapse rate of 76%.

Jeffrey Foote, Ph.D., a nationally recognized clinical research scientist and Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Centre for Motivation and Change has said, "The velvet-glove confrontational stuff Pinsky [Dr.Drew] does is what works for TV but its not what works for patients."

Maybe that is why the emphasis of the show has turned towards treating celebrities with 'self diagnosed' addictions, such as Rachel Uchitel's 'addiction to love' in series four [Robert Palmer interlude, anyone?]. As Drew Grant wrote in his Salon column, "The emphasis of the show has shifted from drug and alcohol treatment to creating the perfect storm of volatile and absurd characters in order to remain entertaining and bring viewers back week to week. And that's not helping anyone recover."

I am not a fan of freak show reality TV, but I am prepared to tolerate its existence if it somehow helps its cast members and its target audience by the back door. Dr. Drew has defended the show by saying, "The people that need what we have are watching VH1. You gotta give 'em what they want so you can give 'em what they need."

Well, I think what we all need now is some clinical evidence. Just how good are you, Dr. Drew, "one of the most listened to doctors in America"? Tell us, we are all listening.

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Victoria Robertson is a freelance current affairs columnist and founder of thecolumnista.com. With her back foot firmly planted in some commonsense and a lively swing of the bat, she knocks today's big news stories straight out of the park.

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