Helping musicians kick devastating drug habits

April 09, 2002|By Steve Morse | Steve Morse,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Curbing a musician's dependence on drugs and alcohol carries no guarantees. Nirvana's Kurt Cobain accepted the help of the Musicians' Assistance Program but walked out of treatment and killed himself. However, many other artists, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Dr. John, are part of the 60 percent success rate during the program's first decade.

For some, that might not sound like an impressive rate. But for musicians who have clung to drugs, it's nothing short of a miracle, say organizers. "There had never before been a program for people in the music business to get help with this disease," says Buddy Arnold, co-founder of MAP with wife Carole Fields, a recovering alcoholic.

It's a disease that Arnold knows well, having been a heroin addict for 31 years while touring as a saxophonist with the likes of Buddy Rich and Stan Kenton. He finally cleaned up "with the help of the California Department of Corrections," which gave him a seven-year prison sentence as a cap to his 34 narcotics arrests.

MAP, which now has a $1.5 million budget and receives grants from the Recording Industry Association of America, started in a $100-a-month room in the musicians union in Los Angeles and is still there. In the past three years the program has given its annual Stevie Ray Vaughan Award, for artists who have kicked their habit, to Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt and David Crosby.

"We just focus on what we do. Somehow we've managed to stay out of politics and stay faithful to artists," says Arnold.

The program has helped lead 1,104 people to sobriety - mostly musicians, but also agents and studio engineers. Program personnel evaluate the person and pay for treatment.

"We receive a progress report from the treatment center, no matter where it is, once a week" Arnold says.

Future goals for the program include establishing a senior citizens' facility for musicians who no longer have families.

"We have a large relapse rate for people in the industry who get older and have arthritis and operations and take pills as a result," says Fields.

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