Teens Who Participated in '70s and '80s Anti-Drug Program Program Speak Out About Abuse

By Victoria Kim 04/13/15

Former participants of Straight, Inc. are speaking out against horrific abuses.

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At the height of the War on Drugs in the 1970s and 1980s, a generation of young people were brainwashed, mentally and physically abused in the name of “saving” them from drug addiction.

Huffington Post investigative reporter Jason Cherkis spoke to the teens who went through these programs, and the parents that put them there in an audio feature.

It started with the Seed program, created by Art Barker, a recovering alcoholic whose version of a punishing form of group therapy was once lauded by First Lady Nancy Reagan, then later exposed for “horrific abuses” in a senate report later comparing it to North Korean brainwashing.

Barker’s vision was inspired by the idea that peer pressure could be used to get teens off drugs. “This is the only kind of program that’s going to work for these kids,” said Barker. “They got onto drugs because of peer pressure, they’re getting off drugs [because of] peer pressure.”

Eventually, the Seed shuttered, but reincarnated as Straight Inc. This program was very similar to the Seed, with the same staffers and even harsher sessions. It expanded to multiple states, backed by state and federal funding, and even the blessing of First Lady Nancy Reagan, which legitimized the operation in the eyes of many Americans and the hype surrounding teens and drug use.

This was at the height of drug hysteria, when the War on Drugs wasn’t just official policy, Cherkis explains in the audio feature. It was on the nightly news, schools, and churches; it was everywhere.

When Cherkis caught up with the teens, who are now adults, who went through Straight Inc., they described an intense daily schedule of forceful indoctrination complete with deprivation of sleep, food, and water.

The men and women who talked to Cherkis described not being allowed to contact outside friends and family, read, or listen to music. They were not even allowed to use the bathroom as they wished. One woman said she suffered “several bladder infections” as a result.

Teens who did not participate or follow the rules were made to by physical force.

“It took several days for it to really dawn on me that this was the treatment,” said one man. “I thought I was going to get help with life skills. Like maybe I’d learn a hobby. Maybe a tutor, you know. Maybe some counseling, let the kids talk about their problems. But it wasn’t like that. The treatment was sitting in this chair with 200 other kids, flapping my arms all day and watching the violence that took place against the kids that didn’t want to follow the rules.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr