The Money and the Myths

N e w s     S e c t i o n

Copyright 1997 The Pensacola News Journal. All rights reserved
Addicts may be getting false hope, experts say 
Spiritual salvation only part of cure

By Kimberly Blair
News Journal staff writer 

PENSACOLA - Drug addicts kick their habit on the spot. 

Alcoholics never touch another drop. 

It 's a miracle. Or is it? 

Brownsville Revival evangelist Steve Hill has said in the pulpit and in an interview with the News Journal that he has seen "drug addicts immediately delivered" at the revival. 

He claims he himself was instantly washed clean of drug addiction, and he describes his salvation in his 55-page autobiography, "Stone Cold Heart." 

Drug treatment professionals, however, say spiritual salvation can be the catalyst for an addict to change, but they say few, if any, can spontaneously kick a long-held habit without treatment or support programs. 

To imply otherwise "gives false hope, said Leo Donnelly executive director of The Friary a residential treatment center in Gulf Breeze that helps people overcome drug and alcohol dependency. 

The Friary has been open 20 years and is a service of Lakeview Center Inc. 

All too often, Donnelly said, addicts who believe they are healed return to the same environment that fueled their addiction. Because they did not have the support and treatment to fight the addiction, they lapse back, Donnelly said. 

The testimonies

Revival testimonies, however, particularly the ones given during emotion-charged baptism testimonies on Friday nights, tell a different story. 

Self-proclaimed drug addicts, dope pushers and alcoholics testify they lost their addictions when they received the Holy Ghost at the revival. 

Psychiatric patients testify they are throwing away their medications because the revival is their cure. 

And now, area mental health care centers are reporting an increase in psychiatric patients. The majority of new patients are out-of-towners who came to Pensacola for the revival. 

"Some are the disenfranchised who hear there is an organization that says it is offering something new," said Dr. David Josephs, a psychologist with Lakeview Center Inc. "They seem to gravitate to that." 

Mental health center officials are careful not to say that any people being treated have sought treatment directly because of the revival. Many had psychological problems before coming to the revival, the official said. 

On one revival service videotape on sale at the church, 14 people claim to have been freed from decades of addiction when they accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. 

Hill often underscores that, enthusiastically announcing that drug addicts don 't need treatment programs. 

"You don 't need The Friary, brother. All you need is Jesus," Hill roars during many revival meetings. 

But 16 years of work in treating chemical dependency has taught Donnelly to doubt instant "cures." 

"Those who stop do it with support like with 12 steps," he said. 

Admissions up

Brownsville leaders also have publicly said that the revival is putting a dent in drug use in Escambia County by saving drug dealers and users. 

But addiction treatment centers paint a different picture of the area 's problem. 

"Our admissions are going up," Donnelly said. 

Since 1993, Friary admissions have steadily climbed, he said, from 250 admissions in 1993-94 to 398 admissions in 1996-97. 

"These are just the residential numbers. We have three levels of care," Donnelly said. Numbers are up in all segments, he said. 

Twelve Oaks, a treatment center in Navarre, is also seeing more addicts."Business has almost doubled," said Jo Jarrett, human resource coordinator ' for Twelve Oaks. 

None report a decrease. 

Lakeview 's Outpatient Drug and Alcohol Services has seen no change in demand for services during the past two years, said spokeswoman Peggy Mika. 

"We have from 1,200 to 1,400 in our service. That has been steady, Mika said. 

The Pavilion at Columbia West Florida Regional Medical Center has felt no impact from the revival, said spokeswoman Regina Hudson. 

Mobile Metro Treatment, a methadone treatment center in Mobile that treats Pensacola clients, also reports no change. 

"Our numbers have held steadily overall," said Brian Peace, a drug treatment counselor. 

Peace said he heard about the Brownsville Revival from one client. 

"He said, 'I have been there and found it to be a positive experience," ' Peace said. "But as far as if they have been cured and have kicked their methadone treatment? No, I have not seen that." 

Donnelly said spontaneous freedom from addiction is not unheard of. In fact, he said, about one in every 62 addicts has had a healing experience and never has the addiction again. 

"I 'm not knocking the revival. The goal is to get them clean and sober. They may be helping people who abuse drugs or alcohol," Donnelly said. 

"But to say to everyone who comes in, 'Step forward and be healed, ' won 't work, he said. "Addiction is something that takes years and years and years to treat."

E-mail Us

All content © 1997 The Pensacola News Journal, a Gannett company.