By almost any measure, the heroin addiction treatment a prominent rock star underwent earlier this year was unorthodox.
For one thing, it took place not at a licensed clinic but at the Peninsula Hotel, the five-star center of Hollywood deal-making located in the heart of Beverly Hills. For another, the patient was spotted during the course of treatment ordering a Jack Daniels at the hotel bar.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday October 1, 1998 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 2 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
Hotel detox -- In a February court filing seeking medical records, the California Medical Board raised questions about psychiatrist Dr. Nomi Fredrick's treatment of Hollywood producer Don Simpson. The Times incorrectly reported Sunday in an article on hotel drug detoxification that the board had filed a formal accusation.
Although the opiates used for treatment were supposed to be securely locked in a safe in the hotel room, the patient said he had no trouble gaining access to them at will.
Finally, the treatment was woefully ineffective. Within weeks the rock star, who spoke with The Times on condition that he not be named, was undergoing heroin detoxification again.
As unconventional as the star's weeklong sojourn at the Peninsula might have been, it was not unique.
So-called "hotel detoxes" at the Peninsula, the Four Seasons and other Westside luxury hotels have become a lucrative practice for physicians catering to the entertainment industry's rich and celebrated.
Hotel detox is flourishing even though state medical authorities say it is illegal in many cases and experts in the field say it is almost guaranteed to fail. Its availability and popularity highlight one reason why an enduring drug problem afflicts some of Hollywood's prominent executives and stars--people with the wherewithal and power to set the terms of their own treatment, often to their own disadvantage.
Among them: rock star Kurt Cobain, who underwent at least two unsuccessful hotel detoxes before succumbing to a long-standing heroin addiction and committing suicide in 1994, and film producer Don Simpson, who was detoxed five times at his Bel-Air estate before dying of an overdose in 1996.
In scores of interviews with chemical dependency experts, entertainment industry sources and former drug addicts, The Times found that a small group of physicians has been using Los Angeles' most luxurious hotels to detox celebrity addicts since the mid-1980s, when the practice was pioneered by maverick addiction specialist Dr. Robert P. Freemont.
Over the last few years the white limestone Peninsula Hotel, at Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards, has won a reputation as the cushiest place in town to try to kick a drug habit.
That is largely the work of David A. Kipper, a Beverly Hills internist whose Lasky Drive office faces the hotel's rear entrance. Kipper, who treated the anonymous rock star, told The Times that he has conducted 100 such procedures at the hotel in a span of 24 months, weaning patients from a variety of addictive substances ranging from prescription painkillers to heroin. (In a follow-up letter he amended the claim to 40 procedures.)
State authorities say that conducting drug detoxification in an unlicensed facility such as a hotel violates the state health and safety code. State law also prohibits the use of an opiate to detox narcotic addicts--a rule flouted by Kipper, who told The Times he uses the synthetic opiate buprenorphine to wean his patients from heroin.
"I would bet it's not completely legal," Kipper said in an interview at his office. "But it's a gray area, and the reality is, it works."
Kipper said he has kept the Peninsula management fully apprised of what he does. But the hotel's management and owners said Kipper never told them he was conducting a medical procedure on the property. After inquiries by The Times, the Peninsula said it had "put a temporary freeze on all doctor-referred patients until we can better understand this situation."
Kipper's fee, from $10,000 to $19,000 per week of treatment (not including the hotel rate of up to $800 a night per room), is exorbitant by the standards of addiction medicine. It is several times the rate charged by such nationally recognized clinics as the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage and Arizona's Sierra Tucson for programs combining detoxification and weeks of rehab therapy.
Kipper said the fees are high in part because his program is administered by an exceptionally qualified and costly staff--and that the steep price has some therapeutic value.
"I work in a community where people pay top dollar," he said. "My detox program is probably the most expensive one in the city." Addicts under treatment, he added, need to have the consequences of their behavior brought home to them. "There has to be a price to be paid. I hate to see that it is financial, yet that is one way to make people wake up and pay attention."
Entertainers Can Be a Challenge to Treat
But other addiction experts criticize Kipper's program for its expense and setting.
"It's outrageous to charge a patient so much money simply to detox them--no matter how rich they are," said Dr. Drew Pinsky, medical director of the chemical dependency program at Las Encinas Hospital in Pasadena.