News & Politics

Drug Rehab in the Vietnam Era Gets Politicized, Cultish

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Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
November 21, 1968, Vol. XIV, No. 6

Schism on 14th Street: The Daytop Explosion
by Joe Pilati

Power is a drug too. All of the antagonists in last week’s controversy surrounding Daytop Village, the highly successful five-year-old narcotics addict rehabilitation program, knew this to be the case. They disagree only on the crucial question of which side is obsessed with manipulation, in contrast to the side of the selfless therapeutic angels.

Partisans of Monsignor William B. O’Brien, president of Daytop’s board of directors, insist that the Daytop staff — led by executive director David Deitch who was ousted Monday night — is intent upon transforming the therapeutic community into a vehicle for political action and self-aggrandisement.

While O’Brien himself has been unavailable for comment since last Thursday, his supporters — comprising a majority of the board of directors, as handful of ex-staff members and residents, and the medical-psychiatric consultant, Dr. Daniel Casriel — have asserted repeatedly that Deitch and his “puppets” have ensnared Daytop in a web of fiscal mismanagement, new left politicking, nepotism, and general irresponsibility.

At a press conference at Daytop’s Manhattan facility Tuesday morning, Deitch announced his intention to remain with the staff and residents depite the board’s acceptance of his resignation. “We’re going to stay here, because we live here and this is our community,” he said. “Our resignation was from the board, not from the community. We will not voluntarily leave our home and our community.” Deitch indicated that the staff supported his plan to remain.

Deith, a 34-year-old ex-addict who has been the chief architect of Daytop since he came into the program in October, 1964, had the allegiance of a minority of the board of directors and nearly all of the staff and residents of Daytop’s four major facilities, located in Manhattan, Staten Island, Sullivan County and New Haven. They argue that while O’Brien, Casriel, and the board majority have been only peripherally involved in the day-to-day operations of Daytop, despite frequent entreaties to plunge in more deeply, they are now interfering with the staff’s ability to implement decisions which it deems necessary and in keeping with Daytop’s “self-help, self-reliance” philosophy. “Monsignor O’Brien’s apparent determination,” according to Deitch, is “to rule or to ruin”…

Dr. Casriel, who wrote what is regarded as the definitive volume on the Synanon movement, feels that under Deitch’s leadership Daytop, like Synanon, became “cultish.” “I feel sorry for the kids who’ve been brainwashed, who’ve been told Dave is God. Dave is out of touch with reality,” he said on Friday…

Casriel’s charge that Deitch has turned Daytop into a “new left commune” prompted New York Times reporter Will Lissner to write that “Mr. Deitch and many of his supporters have taken physical possession of the properties, arranged a communal kitchen and set up an organization of the kind that the New Left calls a ‘commune’ — an arrangement for extended family living, including quarters for married couples and dormitory sleeping facilities for the separate sexes.” Actually, the “communal kitchen” and the dormitory rooms are holdovers from the previous occupants of the Manhattan building, the Religious Sisters of Jesus-Mary.

“We’re operating the same way we have for the last four years,” Deitch pointed out. “People live here together as a community committed to the idea of personal growth. Now, suddenly, they call this a commune”…

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]

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