By the end of the 1960s, Synanon was a widely respected drug rehab with a celebrated treatment program. It had intake centers and commune-style rehabs all over the country.
It subsisted by turning members into unpaid workers who hustled donations and ran Synanon businesses. As the money poured in, Synanon’s founder, Charles Dederich, transitioned the group from a rehab into an “experimental society.”
Dederich instituted a series of increasingly authoritarian rules on members: He banned sugar, dissolved marriages, separated children from their parents and forced vasectomies. Synanon ultimately became a religion, with Dederich as its violent and vengeful leader.
Synanon descended into madness. But before it crumbled, the group inspired an entire generation of rehabs. By one researcher’s count in the 1970s, there were 500 programs in the United States stemming from Synanon. Many of those rehabs still exist today, including Cenikor.
This is a rebroadcast of an episode that was originally aired in 2020.
Lead reporter: Shoshana Walter | Reporter and series producer: Laura Starecheski | Reporter and producer: Ike Sriskandarajah | Contributing producer: Katharine Mieszkowski | Contributing reporter: Amy Julia Harris | Associate producers: Najib Aminy and Amy Mostafa | Digital producer: Sarah Mirk | Episode art: Eren Wilson | Art direction and layout: Gabe Hongsdusit | Original score, mix, sound design: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda | Post-production assistance: Claire Mullen | Fact-checker: Rosemarie Ho | Series editor: Brett Myers | Editors: Esther Kaplan and Andy Donohue | Editor-in-chief: Matt Thompson | Executive producer for tv and documentary: Amanda Pike | Executive producer: Kevin Sullivan | Host: Al Letson
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