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Innovator of Drug Treatment Msgr. William O’Brien Passes Away

on Tuesday, 18 November 2014. Posted in Breaking News

William O'Brien, who helped to create one of the first and most successful residential drug and alcohol treatment centers in the U.S., passed away on October 18th in Scarsdale N.Y. at the age of 90. The loss of O'Brien was announced by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York because of his work as a Catholic priest and Monsignor as well as his innovation and passionate contributions to those in need.

Monsignor O'Brien had been active in the community of recovery for decades creating programs and communities for people suffering from addiction. He worked tirelessly to improve the lives of people dealing with drug abuse problems and made a great and lasting contribution to the development of effective drug treatment methods.

The Founding of Daytop Treatment

O'Brien began his work in drug abuse by opening the first Daytop treatment residence for individuals with drug and alcohol addictions in 1963 on Staten Island. He was considered a co-founder of Daytop along with three partners- a psychologist named Dr. Daniel Casriel, Joseph Shelly a chief probation officer and Alexander Bassin a social worker and criminologist.

The Daytop residential treatment center was one of the first of its kind in the U.S. and the program grew into a national franchise with 28 facilities opened across five states. Daytop was innovative and effective enough to become a model for substance abuse treatment centers worldwide. The treatment centers have not only administered care for over 200,000 people in the U.S. they have also achieved a long term sobriety success rate of over 80 percent.

Treatment Extends Worldwide

Msgr. O'Brien became a world famous member of the Catholic community although Daytop was not affiliated with the Catholic Church. He was featured on broadcast news shows such as ABC's "20/20" and was even invited to brief Pope John Paul II about substance abuse.

The success of Daytop led public health officials to request him to set up similar programs in 66 countries worldwide and he became one of the founders of the World Federation of Therapeutic Communities when he finally retired in 2010. The publicity he received allowed him to advocate his beliefs about drug abuse treatment and his opposition to the war on drugs.

He was openly critical of government officials for putting more addicts in jail and cutting funding for drug treatment. He often testified at legislative hearings in Washington to assert his opinion on how drug addiction should be handled. He disagreed with law enforcement handling the drug problem and the government building more prisons to deal with growing drug abuse.

O'Brien grew up in New York and was ordained a priest in 1951 after finishing seminary school in Yonkers. He worked for St. Brendan's Church in the northwest Bronx before he became involved in the founding of Daytop. He continued to study while working in drug treatment and received a degree in psychotherapy in 1966 from the University of Illinois.

While serving as a priest, O'Brien became aware of the drug problem in his neighborhood when mothers from all across the city came to pray for their children who were addicted to drugs. Meeting some of these young people involved in drugs prompted him to begin planning a treatment center modeled after a therapeutic community called Synanon for drug abusers in California.

Daytop treatment was rigorous and strict but O'Brien took a sympathetic approach to addiction. The treatment was revolutionary in a time when addicts were otherwise put into prison for their drug problems. O'Brien was passionate about helping young people start their lives over and experience recovery rather than live out a jail sentence.


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