The New York Times February 18, 1951
RELAPSES RUN HIGH IN NARCOTIC 'CURES'
City Treatment of Teen-Age Addicts held Inadequate--Growing Problem Seen
By CHARLES GRUTZNER
The ratio of relapse among narcotic addicts who have "taken the
cure" is very high.
Only one-fifth of the patients who underwent the full six-month treatment at the Federal
narcotics Hospital in Lexington, Ky., were found, in a followup survey, to have remained
"off the stuff." Thirty-five per cent had returned to the hospital or appeared
in police stations as narcotics "repeaters." Fortyfive per cent of the former
patients could not be traced, and hospital officials believe a large number of the
untraccables [sic] were backsliders.
The record of those voluntary patients who, against medical advice, left the hospital with
less than thirty days' treatment is even more dismal. The followup showed one out of
2,500 had remained abstinent, 14.4 per cent had turned up as repeaters, 84.8 per cent
could not be traced.
A group of former addicts, banded together as Narcotics Anonymous, is fighting backsliding
by methods similar to those used by Alcoholics Anonymous.
Treatment Here Inadequate
Teen-age addicts in New York City who undergo detoxification at Bellevue of Kings County
Hospitals get less than thirty days' institutional treatment. Many are turned out in eight
days because of crowding. The inadequacy of this treatment was readily admitted by Dr.,
Marcus D. Kogel, commissioner of Hospitals, who said the municipal institutions did not
have special facilities.
"This is something new," he said. "The influx of juvenile narcotics addicts
has become a problem in our hospitals in the last year." Dr. Kogel suggested as an
emergency measure that the state lease a settlement house or some other structure and
establish immediately a public institution for narcotic addiction treatment. He remarked,
however, that the problem of teen-age treatment might be temporary.
"While drug addiction among teenagers is a horrible thing, I do not believe it is
numerically serious," he declared.
Doubting the existence of any large number of "hidden cases," Dr. Kogel said the
effects of narcotics on teenagers--- both physically and through the necessity of
obtaining money to feed the costly habit--- were such that most youthful users of illegal
drugs could not continue unexposed for long.
Dr. Kogel said the two city institutions appeared already to have passed the peak of their
juvenile addict censuses. The number of cases in Bellevue dropped last week from 37 to 23,
and in Kings County Hospital form four to none, he said. He voiced the belief that the
recent influx was due to increased police activity against narcotics peddlers, and to
publicity that had "flushed out" many "scared kids."
Maybe, he suggested, the narcotics addiction problem will shrink so much within the next
two years as to remove the need for a special institution here.
If a Fad, It May Fade
A tentative hopefulness likewise was expressed by Dr. Victor H. Vogel, head of the Federal
Hospital at Lexington. Reporting that some of his young patients had told him they had
taken their first sniff of heroin because it was considered "the sharp thing to
do" in their "crowd," Dr. Vogel said:
"If this thing is a fad, then like other fads it may fade. But it will take time
to disappear because each victim requires followup treatment."
Commissioner Vogel's optimistic appraisal of the extent of juvenile addiction was in
contrast to the views of other New York officials and social workers, who are alarmed.
District Attorney Frank S. Hogan has said the increase in youthful addiction was
"marked" between 1946 and 1949, and has been "shocking" since then.
Pointing out that arrest figures do not tell the entire story, Dr. Perry M. Lichtenstein,
medical adviser to Mr. Hogan, reported a 200 per cent increase last year in the number of
youthful addicts who came to his attention, few of whom were defendants. An even stronger
case for the extent of "hidden" addiction was made by a social worker who said
investigation in one neighborhood had disclosed eighteen youthful addicts, of whom only
one had ever been in court.
Actually, no one knows to what extent narcotics addiction has taken hold among the
city's teenagers. Mayor Impellitteri admits he doesn't know. Police Commissioner Thomas
F. Murphy, chairman of a committee named last December by the Mayor to study the problem
is trying to find out. So is a special committee set up by the Welfare Council.
Representative Louis B. Heller, Democrat of Brooklyn, offered in Congress last week a
bill to establish a joint Senate-House committee to study the narcotics problem, with
special reference to sales to minors.
The Mayor said yesterday that the city's law enforcement, welfare and health agencies were
giving serious attention to the question.
"I am pleased," he said, "with the increased police activity which has rid
our streets of many narcotics peddlers. The Department of Hospitals is making maximum use
of its limited facilities to give emergency treatment to some young addicts. Other
municipal agencies, including the New York City Youth Board, are working on the problem
from the preventative angle.
"The secrecy with which addicts surround themselves makes it difficult, if not
impossible, to determine how many young people have fallen victims to this disease. I am
confident that the spread of addiction will be halted with the aid of this
Commissioner Murphy said there was no way to measure accurately the extent of addiction,
but "the increase in the number of arrests for sale and possession and the crowded
condition of the Federal Public Health Service Hospital at Lexington certainly indicate a
rise in addiction, especially among teenagers."
The increase in teenage cases at the Lexington hospital is shown in the hospital's
census breakdown, indicating that while only three per cent of the patients admitted in
1946 were teenagers, this age group represented eighteen per cent of last year's new
cases. Of 15,000 individuals treated at Lexington since the institution was opened in
1935, forty per cent have returned more than once.
The more detailed followup survey, made in 1948, attempted to check on patients who had
been discharged between Jan 1, 1940, and Dec. 31, 1947. Pointing out that most of them had
been adults, De. Vogel said:
"Inasmuch as many of the teenage addicts do not have strongly organized personality
or psychiatric disorders, and considering the fact that being under age we do not
discharge them against advice except upon the request of their parents, treatment results
may be significantly better than for the older group."
The New York group of former patients at Lexington, organized as Narcotics Anonymous,
holds weekly meetings at one of the Salvation Army buildings. Its members do preventative
work with some youth groups and are available day and night to help.