Documentary series, ‘The Synanon Fix,’ shows drug rehab turned cult that was in Detroit

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During the 1950s, Detroit, like other urban cities, had startling numbers of residents suffering from drug abuse and the city became the ideal starting ground for the country’s first drug rehabilitation programs.

A new HBO Max docuseries, “The Synanon Fix,” tells the story of the drug rehab program turned dangerous cult that operated in Detroit from 1969-80. The four-part docuseries premiered at the January 2024 Sundance Film Festival and was directed by Rory Kennedy, the youngest daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, and contains interviews with former members.

Synanon’s founder Chuck Dederich, had attended a session of Alcoholics Anonymous and felt he could replicate the sober lifestyle program for drug users. Dederich would open one of the country’s first interracial community drug rehabilitation centers in 1958 in Santa Monica, California.

Dederich’s rehabilitation program, Synanon, operated on the foundation of “The Game,” a form of attack therapy where members were encouraged to belittle and degrade each other in the worst ways.

While its method was unconventional and extreme, Synanon was leading the way for community-based drug treatment centers — the government sent researchers and Hollywood produced the film, “Synanon,” in 1965.

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