Keeley's Gold Cure for Alcoholism and Drug Addiction May 16, 2015 5:20:34 GMT -5
Post by Joanna on May 16, 2015 5:20:34 GMT -5
Keeley's Gold Cure for Alcoholism and Drug Addiction
“A Baby Morphine Fiend,” declared the headline in the Montpelier Argus. The June 1, 1893, edition of the newspaper reported the case of addiction was unprecedented for Dr. J. W. Nichols of the Keeley Institute, a treatment center for alcoholics and drug addicts located at 89 State Street in the capital city. The rehabilitation facility had opened a year earlier in the rooms above the Vermont Mutual Fire Insurance Company, a handsome Georgian-style brick building across from the Pavilion Hotel. The Argus noted that Mrs. Nora Woodworth of Jonesville appeared for treatment for her morphine addiction at the institute two weeks earlier. She was accompanied by her 3-year-old daughter and the doctors discovered the child was also suffering from the disease of opiate addiction. “Mrs. Woodworth is the mother of nine children and has been a victim of the morphine habit for four years,” the Argus reported. “When she was nursing the child, she was taking 15 grains of morphine a day, and the little one, through its mother’s milk, became an innocent victim of the habit. When she was weaned, at the age of 10 months, it was necessary to give her morphine regularly, and when she came here for treatment, she was taking a grain and a half a day.”
The twin scourges of alcoholism and drug abuse were rife in the 19th century. Morphine was one of the few effective medicines in the pharmacopeia of physicians of the day and was used to treat everything from chronic pain to diarrhea. Opium was also sold as an over-the-counter drug in general stores and many patent medicines contained both alcohol and opiates.
Addiction treatment was often harsh and dangerous. In the era before anti-convulsive medication, withdrawal from alcohol addiction could have lethal consequences. As a result, it was often the custom to use beer to wean alcoholics from their dependence on intoxicants.
Secret cure. The Keeley Institute was a franchised treatment center with a novel approach to detoxification and sobriety. The “Keeley Cure,” the brainchild of Dr. Leslie Keeley, relied on injections of “bichloride of gold” and a supportive and humane facility that characterized the state of addiction as a disease, rather than a character flaw. Treatment at the various centers throughout the country was modeled on that of the flagship site in Dwight, Illinois, founded in 1879. New arrivals were “introduced into an open, informal environment where they were first offered as much alcohol as they could imbibe.” All patients received injections of bichloride of gold, a secret compound, four times a day, in a course of treatment that lasted four weeks.
It has been reported that, as a child, novelist William Faulkner traveled to a Keeley center in Memphis, Tennessee, where his father was being treated for alcoholism. The Faulkner family took in the sights of Memphis while father Murray was under the care of Keeley Institute physicians.
While many medical professionals sneered at the unorthodox practices the Keeley method advocated, it was known to have provided successful outcomes for hundreds of victims of the malady. In the era before Alcoholics Anonymous and psychotherapy, it afforded solace to lost souls whose lives had been ravaged by addiction. Notably, it brought the malady out of the shadows of humiliation and shame and its treatment of the condition as a disease heralded a new course for rehabilitation of alcohol and opiate addiction.
All the rage. Montpelier’s chronicler of contemporary life, Dorman Kent, noted that a cure at the institute had become, to an amusing degree, a measure of having arrived in polite society in the capital city. He observed in his newspaper column that by 1893, “the Keeley Institute for the cure of the liquor habit was doing a rushing business in the Vermont Mutual Fire Insurance Company building. Montpelier went so crazy over it. It became all but a distinction to take the Keeley cure.”
Montpelier’s franchise for the Keeley Cure opened to great acclaim in August 1892. Reporters from the Montpelier Argus interviewed the principals, Business Manager Charles Foster and physician J. W. Nichols. “The former is a gentleman of high character and fine business ability who devotes his personal attention to the management of the institute. He is himself a “graduate” and is enthusiastic in the work of aiding unfortunates to find relief from their afflictions. Dr. Nichols is a graduate of Bowdoin College and of the Maine Medical School. He has had a large and successful experience in the practice of general medicine and under the personal training of Dr. Leslie E. Keeley at the parent house in Dwight, Illinois, acquired a thorough knowledge of the methods of treatment there.
“Having purchased from the parent house at Dwight, the exclusive right of the state of Vermont to administer the Keeley Cure, Montpelier was selected as the location of the institute. Its central location, its excellent railroad communications, its fine hotel accommodations, its healthy climate, pure water, beautiful residences and public buildings, and its maple and elm shaded streets, all combine to make it one of the most charming locations in New England for a Keeley Institute.”
The second floor of the Vermont Mutual Fire Insurance building served as a social center for those undergoing treatment. The weekly numbers varied from 12 to 40 as demand fluctuated. Upon arrival, patients were examined by Nichols, then administered regular doses of tonic and injections of the institute’s secret gold preparations “and, if he so desires he is furnished with the best whiskey so long as he cares to drink it. Some of the patients the first day or two drink a pint or more during 24 hours. At the end of the third or fourth day the liquor is voluntarily given up.”
The patients were not confined to the rooms of the institute, but were free to walk around Montpelier and enjoy the amenities that the town had to offer. Patients usually selected their own accommodations, most staying at nearby hotels such as the Pavilion, which offered privacy and discretion, as well as comfort. Some elected to rent a room in a private home. The institute recommended special accommodations for ladies. “There are several first-class boarding houses in town, in which lady patients can find pleasant accommodations and receive private treatment.”
There were no restrictions on what patients did on their own time. Many enjoyed the natural beauty of central Vermont, enjoying the same activities as would any other visitors to the capital. “The knowledge that they are free from the clutches of drink comes to them like a benediction from heaven, and there is today no happier class of men in Montpelier.” A promotional brochure extolled the citizenry of the capital.
“Ever since the opening of the Keeley Institute in Montpelier, the citizens have manifested the greatest interest in its workings and welfare, and have heartily cooperated with the management at every opportunity, doing everything within their power to promote the best interests of the institution and its patients. The people of Montpelier rejoice over the good work going on in their midst. They bid the newcomer welcome, and words of encouragement and good cheer greet all.”
Walking ads. In contrast to the quiet anonymity of Alcoholics Anonymous (founded in Ohio in 1935 by two Vermonters), many “graduates” of the Keeley Cure were outspoken advocates of the treatment. When asked by the Argus if their names could be used in its report, many prominent men around Vermont readily agreed to serve as enthusiastic proponents of the institute. These “living advertisements” included G. W. Baker of Johnson who was profiled in the Argus. “He was a victim of the morphine and liquor habit, and had been bedridden some time from their excessive use. He is a well-known citizen of the northern part of the state, and when he came to Montpelier was unable to walk without a cane, and his friends predicted that he would be taken back to Johnson in a box. He was a physical wreck while his friends today would hardly recognize him. He cannot say enough in favor of the treatment.”
Newspapers throughout Vermont reported the visits of their citizens much as they announced vacations and business travel, and graduates of the program gathered for public reunions that helped reinforce their commitment to sobriety and served as an advertisement for the Keeley Cure. As Dorman Kent intimated, it seems the Keeley Institute was a trendy destination for those who could afford treatment, room and board in the beautiful environs of Vermont’s capital city.
A Women’s Auxiliary Keeley League was formed and regular meetings were held at members’ homes. Apparently, it was a support group for the spouses of those afflicted, serving much the same purpose as Al-Anon does today. Forty years later, Kent recalled the “Ladies Auxiliary Keeley League gave a lawn party in August of 1893, and the Montpelier Military band furnished music. The Ladies Auxiliary Keeley League was made up of wives of boozers who had taken the cure and many of our first families belonged. Then, when the old man quit drinking, the wives and daughters joined a league and made merry. Now some of the wives and some of the daughters make merry doing exactly what the old man tried to stop doing 40 years ago.”
The Keeley Cure appeared to have won the endorsement of the local chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, inasmuch as it paid $90 for the treatment of an indigent man from Barre. At a meeting in August 1893 the union proffered its official endorsement, “pledging support in all possible ways.”
The prominence of the Keeley Institute may be inferred from the Grand Rally held in November 1892. Led by the Montpelier Military Band, hundreds of graduates and well-wishers made their way up State Street from institute headquarters across from the Pavilion Hotel to the Blanchard Block Opera House, near the junction of Main and East State streets. The Argus reported that 1,000 people were in attendance with spectators standing in the aisles and at the back of the hall. Local attorney and Keeley alumnus William A. Lord presided over an evening of testimonials interrupted by cheers, applause and selections from the brass band. Lord was one of the many distinguished citizens of Montpelier who spoke that night. Born in 1849 and a graduate of Dartmouth, he was a prominent lawyer, state representative (speaker of the House) and senator. He was the son of a prominent Montpelier clergyman and grandson of Nathan Lord, president of Dartmouth. He led the testimonials in a now-familiar confessional style, asserting that the Keeley Cure had saved his life. To thunderous applause, he introduced speaker after speaker who told similar stories. Among them was recovered morphine addict, G. W. Baker of Johnson. “I was using about 15 grains of morphine and one and one half pints of whiskey per day when I came for treatment,” Johnson proclaimed. “And less than two weeks later the chains with which I had been bound for years were broken.”
Quick fall. Despite the popular acclaim the Keeley Cure engendered in Montpelier, there was disagreement as to the institute’s efficacy in the battle against addiction. Many physicians objected to the notion of a “magical elixir” in the form of bichloride of gold. Chemical analysis revealed that it contained a variety of compounds (with the exception of gold) and Keeley remained mute regarding his secret formula. An independent survey revealed that 51 percent of Keeley patients remained drug- or alcohol-free for the long term, a significant success rate, but a rate far lower than Keeley’s promotional matter claimed.
Finally, competing recovery franchises assailed the Keeley Cure at every opportunity. Into this maelstrom were allegations that Charles Foster, business manager of the Montpelier franchise, had somehow embezzled funds and shortchanged patients. Dorman Kent caustically observed that the institute was “the finest managed graft ever seen in this place.” The allegations apparently were unfounded, but the damage had been done, and Montpelier’s Keeley Institute closed its doors in late January 1895.
In the few short years of its existence, more than 500 patients had been treated for addiction. Importantly, the concept of addiction as disease would transform therapy in the coming century, paving the way for compassionate treatment of victims of substance dependency.
Keeley’s Gold Cure consisted of four shots of “gold bichloride” a day, but there is no such thing as gold bichloride, so what was in those shots? The medical community was naturally curious and people were sent to the clinics undercover as alcoholics or drug addicts with the intention of getting their hands on the injected liquid. Some were successful, however, various analyses yielded different results. Some tests revealed traces of alcohol, while others found traces of coca (from which cocaine is derived). Chemists discovered strychnine, willow bark (salicylic acid, from which aspirin was first obtained), ammonia and aloe. Some tests did reveal traces of gold salts, but no one was ever able to explain why gold salts should have an effect on alcoholism, other than convincing patients they were receiving an expensive and exclusive treatment. Many doctors and chemists insisted the cure consisted of nothing more than sedatives.
Keeley never revealed his secret formula and his centers remained popular from the late 19th century into the 20th century, with the Dwight center closing in 1965. To this day, many believe Keeley had, indeed, found a cure for alcoholism and drug addition. Others are convinced he had a high rate of success because his clinics were provided individual attention and encouragement. But whatever Keeley was doing, he had a 51 percent success rate which is exceptional, particularly when compared to the 5 to 10 percent success rates of today’s AA, NA and other alcohol- drug-rehab programs.
Sources: Paul Heller, The Barre Montpelier Times-Argus, April 20, 2015, and Esther Inglis-Arkell, iO9, May 15, 2015.