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'The program's no good for people who just need help--there are plenty of those. It only works if they want help.' : One Man's Quiet But Relentless Crusade Against Drugs, Alcohol

August 07, 1986|AURORA MACKEY | Mackey is a North Hollywood free-lance writer

Ted, a 36-year-old wardrobe man for a major studio, had been thrown out of his home by his wife and was living in a car while supporting a $1,000-a-day cocaine habit. He had been kicked off the set of several television shows, and now the studio he worked for threatened to do the same thing.

Then came a phone call from a man Ted had never met, telling him that, if he wanted help, he should come to a place called Studio 12 first thing Monday morning.

"If you aren't there by 9 a.m.," the voice said, "don't bother showing up."

The voice belonged to a man named Tom Kenny.

When film and television industry employees hear the name for the first time, it usually is because all of their other options have run out. Kenny is the substance abuse program director for the Motion Picture and Television Fund (MPTF). The MPTF is a charitable organization that for 65 years has provided financial, medical and social services to employees in the entertainment industry.

Since taking the position as substance abuse director five years ago, Kenny has launched a quiet but relentless crusade to help people in the movie industry kick their alcohol and drug habits and to help employers develop more effective treatment programs.

Founded Cocaine Anonymous

Kenny, a recovering alcoholic for 15 years, founded Cocaine Anonymous in 1981, responding to what he saw to be a growing national problem. Based on the Alcoholics Anonymous program, Cocaine Anonymous now holds 125 regular meetings in Los Angeles and has chapters in 22 states.

Kenny also was a consultant to other agencies around the country interested in establishing drug treatment programs. With his help, for example, Chicago has set up a successful program called Lifeline to combat cocaine addiction.

But the accomplishment that perhaps has given Kenny the most personal satisfaction was the establishment in 1981 of Studio 12, an in-house substance abuse treatment program for entertainment industry employees. The motion picture fund had just purchased the house when Kenny was brought on board to head its alcohol and drug abuse program.

3-Day Detox Program

"At the time, the MPTF had a three-day detox program, but that was about it," he said. "For many of the guys, that was barely enough time to get the alcohol out of them. Most of them needed longer care."

To get the program rolling, Kenny needed referrals. "I went out and talked with business agents and personnel directors, spoke at union gatherings and had flyers put up all around the studios that said to call me with drug or alcohol problems."

Hospitals in Los Angeles and the Valley were alerted to the availability of follow-up care. Within a short time, the house had a list of people wanting to get in.

Kenny's apparent ability to cut through tangled emotions and put people back on the road to recovery did not come through any formal training. Thrown out of a boys Catholic high school for what he calls "alcoholic drinking" at age 16, Kenny never graduated. Instead, Kenny said, he has advanced degrees from the school of hard knocks. Now 50, Kenny said that, for several years, he "bummed around the country getting in and out of trouble" because of his alcoholism. After returning to his hometown of Waterbury, Conn., he was in an alcohol-related car accident that killed the driver and required Kenny to undergo surgery 26 times over the next 13 years.

After achieving sobriety through a 12-step agenda that Kenny uses in his own recovery program, he was hired to direct a women's alcohol rehabilitation center in Springfield, Mass. From there he moved to the West Coast, directing the substance abuse programs at Bellflower City Hospital and Costa Mesa Hospital before being offered the position at the Motion Picture and Television Fund.

From the outside, there is little to suggest that the two-story, four-bedroom house is not a typical family dwelling. Situated in a residential neighborhood in North Hollywood, Studio 12's layout--with a large living room, dining room and pool in the backyard--is much like the houses that surround it. Studio 12 houses up to nine men for what generally ends up being a two- to four-week stay. The men share household responsibilities including cooking, cleaning and laundry.

Besides agreeing to use no chemical substances and to undergo random drug testing, the men must adhere to the house schedule of meetings and counseling sessions. A psychologist, marriage counselor, financial counselor and several therapists are on staff.

Tells of Advantages

Kenny believes that the program has several advantages over hospital chemical dependency units, both for those with drug or alcohol problems and the studios.

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