Brighton Hospital offers addicts — including Eminem — sparse accommodations but healthy direction for regaining control over drugs and alcohol
September 11, 2005
BY PATRICIA ANSTETT
FREE PRESS MEDICAL WRITER
The Brighton hospital Eminem chose for his recovery from a sleeping pill addiction is a bare-bones facility with a 6:30 a.m. wake-up call, a 10:30 p.m. bedtime and rules banning hip-hop music or movies that don’t have a recovery theme.
Side effects of sleep medicines
â€¢ Brighton Hospital: 888-215-2700; www.stjohn.org/brighton
â€¢ National Institute on Drug Abuse: www.nida.nih.gov
â€¢ Alcoholics Anonymous: www.alcoholics -anonymous.org
â€¢ Narcotics Anonymous: www.na.org
Metro-Detroit Insomnia Resources:
â€¢Henry Ford Health System, www.henryford.com; 1-800-436-7936.
â€¢University of Michigan, www.umich.edu; 734-764-1234.
A white picket fence and old-fashioned chapel suggest a country club, but the nation’s second-oldest private substance abuse facility, an hour’s drive northwest of Detroit, is more boot camp than sumptuous retreat.
Two-thirds of the staff are recovered addicts, including the medical director of its detoxification unit, a doctor whose medical license once was yanked over his addiction to booze and drugs.
A third of the clientele are addicted to sleeping pills and other sedative medicines, making it a logical choice for the rapper born Marshall Mathers. Numerous sources close to Eminem say he admitted himself to Brighton Hospital for an addiction to the sleeping drug Ambien days after an Aug. 12 concert at Comerica Park in Detroit. Officials at Brighton and the St. John Health System, of which the hospital is a part, cited federal health privacy laws in declining to confirm whether Eminem was or remains a patient at the hospital.
But Tuesday, hospital officials spent nearly three hours with a Detroit Free Press team answering questions and providing a limited campus tour.
Their willingness to admit the newspaper team suggests Eminem is no longer there. Patients generally stay at the facility for 10 days, followed by as much as six months of outpatient therapy.
“The people who follow up with a treatment plan are the ones who do well,” said Dr. Mark Menestrini, medical director of the detox unit.
Menestrini, 52, tells his own story of addiction, without shame, if for no other reason than to provide hope to all who will listen. After 12 arrests, four relapses and the near-collapse of his marriage, Menestrini regained his medical license and went on to pass national board certification exams as an addiction medicine specialist.
Admission and detox
Most patients arrive by appointment, sometimes arranged after family intervention. Ambulances shuttle those whose rehab is complicated by gunshot wounds, burns, broken bones and bruises from booze and drug-related falls, stupors, fights and auto accidents, the ugly underside of addiction.
The 92-bed hospital usually is packed at 95% to 100% of occupancy, a stark contrast to many general hospitals struggling half to three-fourths full.
Brighton provides care for 2,400 patients a year, 60% of them men. Just a few years ago, it treated 2,000 people a year. The increase reflects the closing of other programs and the epidemic of addiction in America.
Once the hospital housed more alcoholics than drug abusers. Now, at least half of the patients have more than one addiction problem.
Increasingly, many are addicted to prescription painkillers and sleeping pills.
“We live in a society that reinforces that you take something when you have heartburn, hemorrhoids, excess gas, erectile dysfunction or any possible symptoms,” Menestrini explained.
Many patients start in the 29-bed detox unit, where heroin addicts share rooms with longtime alcoholics, and prescription drug abusers with crack addicts, three to a room.
Sparsely furnished, with white sheets and a blanket covering standard-issue hospital beds, the rooms have no TVs or radios. No headphones are allowed. There is no Internet access — and no visitors — so patients can focus on recovery, said Denise Bertin-Epp, president and chief of nursing.
A TV room offers satellite TV stations and movies limited to spiritual and meditation shows. Too many programs and movies “sabotage sobriety,” Bertin-Epp said. She allows movies such as “Hoosiers” and “28 Days.” Reading materials are equally limited to recovery materials and the Detroit Free Press.
For the bored and restless, there are coloring books, crayons and a colorful, 300-piece puzzle.
Sleeping rules are relaxed in the detox unit. Some patients, particularly those addicted to sedatives, arrive unable to sleep more than an hour or two, a problem known as rebound insomnia.
Stays in the detox unit are $900-a-day; inpatient rehab adds another $750-a-day, bringing a 10-day bill easily to $8,000 or more.
Many insurance plans don’t pay for rehab or limit time in the programs to no more than 10 days. They also often require patients to pay half the bill, a co-pay that puts inpatient rehab beyond the reach of many who might benefit, said Bertin-Epp. The staff spends their time trying to coax health plans to pay for care, even a day or two more.
“Every dollar spent on rehab saves society $5-$7,” Menestrini said.
Precise medicines are used to help reduce nausea, vomiting, headaches and tremors that can occur with withdrawal.
“It’s pretty rough, there’s no getting around it,” said Stewart Francke, a metro Detroit singer who checked himself into Brighton last year for addiction to painkillers he took after cancer treatment.
Patients with sedative addictions receive gradually reduced doses of the sedative phenobarbital and anti-seizure medicines like Tegretol and Depakote to relieve anxiety, often for several months, Menestrini said.
Once past detox, which typically takes a few days, patients are reassigned, two to a room in another building where the units look like college dorm cubicles, only cleaner.
Rules are more relaxed, except for the 6:30 a.m. wake-up, 10:30 p.m. bedtime and a no-nap rule.
Twice-a-week family sessions are offered and visitors encouraged. Patients can roam the wooded campus, play volleyball or do crafts. A historic chapel constructed with donations from auto pioneer Henry Ford is the signature landmark on the campus, with a new perennial garden in front.
Brighton’s program is nationally accredited and recognized. Seven full-time doctors, four psychiatrists and a team of therapists, all with master’s degrees, offer group and individual counseling, morning, afternoon and night, all in the 12-step model. That approach, begun in the 1930s with Alcoholics Anonymous, adheres to anonymity and group counseling as key dynamics to the rehabilitation of addiction.
Therapist Virginia June works to counteract years of self-loathing common in addicts.
“We love them until they learn to love themselves,” she said. “You honor the person they are, not the behavior, not the disease.”
June, 44, a mother of two, is a former addict who straightened herself out at Brighton 19 years ago after four relapses. Her stumbling block was making it beyond the first month of recovery, a tough problem with its own name, Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome. A Brighton counselor and participation in 12-step programs got her clean for good 19 years ago.
Patients get photos of themselves on entry and at the time of their release, along with a gold coin with a serenity slogan. Many continue outpatient therapy at Brighton’s Southfield or Livonia centers. Staffers regularly call former patients and offer a range of programs, including quarterly tune-ups.
For Andy C., 48, of Clarkston, the approach stuck. (The Free Press is honoring the anonymity traditions of the 12-step process.)
He hasn’t had a drink of booze or ounce of cocaine since his October 2001 discharge from Brighton, after a two-week stay.
Once, he drank three to five fifths of vodka a week and snorted $1,000 to $2,000 worth of cocaine.
“I asked God to please get me help.” The road led to Brighton.
There, he met doctors, lawyers, priests, prostitutes, “all with remarkably similar stories.”
Now, Andy C. is married, has a 3 1/2 -month-old baby daughter and is out of debt. He attends 12-step programs three to five times a week, by choice, and returns to Brighton about once a month to speak to groups.
“When I recovered, I got my soul back,” he said. “I recovered the ability to participate in my life again. I wasn’t running from myself.
“I’d recommend it to anyone who feels that alcohol or drugs are keeping them from being the person they want to be.”
Contact PATRICIA ANSTETT at 313-222-5021 or firstname.lastname@example.org. BRIAN MCCOLLUM contributed to this story.