President-elect Barack Obama‘s reported pick for Drug Czar, Minnesota’s Republican Rep. Jim Ramstad, is called out by Maia Szalavitz on Huffington Post Dec. 9 under the lurid title “Obama Drug Czar Pick Tied to Abusive Christian Rehab Linked to Contributor Charged with $3.5 Billion Fraud”:
If his opposition to needle exchange and maintenance treatment for addictions isn’t enough to convince you that Jim Ramstad isn’t qualified to serve in Obama’s cabinet as “drug czar,” how about an earmark funding a Christian addiction “program” that uses outdated and abusive tactics and tries to “complete” Jews? Now add a connection between that program and a man who is charged with swindling investors out of $3.5 billion dollars.
That’s right. Jim Ramstad was the sole sponsor of an earmark providing $235,000 to Minnesota Teen Challenge, a branch of a national anti-addiction group which believes that recruiting people into the Assemblies of God ministry will cure their addiction.
Yes, this is the same Teen Challenge that prompted George W. Bush to de-regulate faith-based addiction treatment in Texas in 1997. The program couldn’t meet basic education standards required for qualified counselors, but Bush wanted it kept open.
After he became President, Texas actually re-regulated faith-based programs when the predicted spate of abuse and maltreatment that comes with unregulated facilities rapidly materialized.
Back then, Bush praised Teen Challenge for its practices, saying that while inside, “if you don’t work, you don’t eat.” That’s right: the program uses unpaid, forced labor backed by the threat of food deprivation as “addiction treatment.”
Further, according to Teen Challenge, “Addiction is a sin, not a disease.” Consequently, the program does not allow the use of medication.
Beyond this, it humiliates and attempts to “break down” people with addictions, using techniques that I have covered extensively elsewhere that are known to do more harm than good.
Since half of all addicts have a co-existing mental illness which often requires medication, banning it is not exactly evidence-based practice. And since there are medications that can help treat particular addictions, this is even more absurd. Given that Ramstad sponsored a bill to change the name of the National Institute on Drug Abuse to the National Institute on Diseases of Addiction, it is deeply troubling that he’d support an organization which views it as sin.
But his ties to Teen Challenge seem close. Here’s a photo of him at a benefit for Minnesota Teen Challenge, with Tom Petters, the campaign contributor now charged with bilking investors out of billions. Minnesota Teen Challenge was one of Petters favorite charities–and it has been hit hard by Petters’ fall.
One wonders, however, why it needed 260 staff members to serve 400 clients annually.
Ramstad almost certainly knew nothing of Petters’ fraudulent dealings–it’s impossible for a politician to know everything about every contributor.
But his support for Teen Challenge shows a disregard for evidence-based treatment and either a willingness to abandon his deeply held beliefs about treating addiction as a disease or a failure to investigate what kinds of programs he funds. Neither possibility reflects well on his qualifications to serve as drug czar.
Obama has said that he supports the use of faith-based services where evidence exists that they are effective. Though Teen Challenge makes the usual anecdote and flawed research-based claims of high success rates, in fact, its approach is completely contrary to almost everything we know about what makes addiction treatment work. It seems unlikely, then, that Obama would favor it.
Also, unlike Bush, Obama does not support allowing faith-based groups to discriminate against members of other religions in hiring. Teen Challenge admitted in Congressional testimony in 2001 that it does this—and that it had successfully converted some Jews who entered the program, using the offensive term “completed Jews” for such converts.
Given that Ramstad has spent much time and energy seeking compassion for recovering addicts and championing the idea that addiction is a disease, not a moral problem, it is astonishing that he would fund and promote Teen Challenge. The fact that he does suggests—just like his opposition to needle exchange—that he does not know how to carefully evaluate data and vet addiction programs. President-elect Obama, are you listening?
[Much thanks to Ken Avidor of the Dump Bachmann blog for alerting me to this story]
P.S. Mainstream media where are you? A $3.5 billion fraud case isn’t a national story?
“Completed Jews,” eh? How charming. Yet of course, Ramstad is 300% pro-Israel. On The Issues informs us he co-sponsored a 2002 House resolution on “Solidarity with Israel in its fight against terrorism.” Another case of the paradoxical politics of anti-Semitism.
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