Hundreds of fans holding “We Love You” signs stood outside the Marylebone Magistrates’ Court in London last week as Boy George arrived for his scheduled hearing. The 25-year-old singer, having pleaded guilty to the possession of heroin after a police raid on his London home, emerged from the courthouse 20 minutes later with a light fine of $370 and the judge’s words ringing in his ears. “I think it is right to say that you faced up to this charge manfully,” Magistrate Geoffrey Noel had told him. “It is quite clear that you started to act on this matter long before police raided the address in Abercorn Close.”
Noel was referring to the drama that began on the evening of July 6 when Boy George telephoned Richard Branson, head of Virgin Records, the singer’s recording company. Branson had been suspicious that something was amiss with his star. “He broke down on the telephone about the drugs he had been taking,” says Branson, referring to George’s two-gram-a-day heroin habit. That night Branson telephoned the one person he hoped could help: Dr. Meg Patterson.
At 63, the slightly-built surgeon with a Scottish burr is more believable as a Highlands schoolmistress than as the medical minister to rock’s jet-set junkies. Though she has successfully treated hundreds of addicts in the past 13 years, her most celebrated rescues have been heroin abusers Eric Clapton, Rolling Stones bad boy Keith Richards and The Who’s Peter Townshend, who frankly admits, “If I hadn’t gone to Meg, I’d be dead.”
The next morning at the crack of dawn, Patterson was en route to meet Boy George at Branson’s Oxfordshire country house to begin the controversial 10-day, $5,000 detox treatment called NeuroElectric Therapy (NET). She placed two electrodes behind the singer’s ears and connected them to a Sony Walkman-like black box that he wore continually night and day. The box sends out a weak electric current which, according to Patterson, stimulates production of several neurochemicals including pain-reducing endorphins. The release of endorphins, normally interrupted by consumption of heroin and cocaine, is thought to eliminate the classic traumatic symptoms of withdrawal—anxiety, runny nose, stomach cramps.
“It’s imperative that the electrodes be attached as soon as possible,” says Patterson. “Fifteen minutes after they are attached, withdrawal symptoms begin to wane.” The major advantage of Patterson’s treatment is to speed the detoxification process, which normally requires a two-week hospital stay. “We are sending signals for the body to cure itself at 100 mph,” she says, “rather than at 1 mph.” And in Boy George’s case, says Branson, “There’s no question the black box helped him enormously from the moment he went into treatment.”
But NET is just the first step toward rehabilitation, Patterson emphasizes in her book Hooked? (Faber and Faber, London, 1986). Counseling is mandatory to address “the underlying cause that produces the addiction in the first place.” Patterson prefers Christian-oriented counseling, since addiction is “fundamentally a spiritual problem,” but she supports other therapies as well. Following NET, she claims, rehabilitation can take as little as two months.
Patterson has encountered disbelief and even hostility from Britain’s medical establishment and from the U.S. medical world as well. Dr. Robert DuPont, president of the Center for Behavioral Medicine in Rockville, Md. and former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, says of NET, “It sounds like hocus-pocus. Most heroin addicts have been detoxed hundreds of times. It’s not important in the overall recovery process. She’s not a scientist, she’s a promoter.” Harold Holloway, a director of New York’s Odyssey House rehabilitation program, questions her short-term cure. “Remaining drug free is the hard part. The person needs to change the environment and destructive relationships,” he says. “Our residential program takes 12 to 16 months.” Patterson replies that those who can’t replicate her work are either “jealous” or “incompetent to conduct their studies.”
Margaret Ingram Patterson became, at 21, the youngest woman to qualify as a doctor at Scotland’s Aberdeen University. In 1948 she went to practice in India, and later was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for her hospital work there. While vacationing on the Tibetan border she met her British husband, George, a Christian missionary and journalist. “I was a notorious adventurer, and she was a famous saint,” says George, 65, who now raises funds for her experiments.
In 1972, when the couple was working in Hong Kong, Patterson observed a colleague, Dr. H.L. Wen, performing electro-acupuncture. One of Wen’s patients, an opium addict, claimed that electro-acupuncture had stopped his withdrawal symptoms. Back in England, Patterson experimented further, substituting electrodes for needles. The radical treatment, she insists, was markedly more effective than traditional drug rehabilitation. In 1980 she ran a clinic in Sussex for a year; she now sees patients privately. Often strapped for funds, she has conducted research in New Jersey and California, hoping eventually to open a clinic in the U.S.
Boy George may have Meg Patterson to thank for assisting his recovery, but that doesn’t guarantee she will become a fan. The diminutive Scot isn’t familiar with his music, but then again, she admits, “When Eric Clapton came to me in 1974 had to ask my children [Lorne, 26, Sean, 24, and Myrrh, 22] who he was.” She admits to developing a taste for The Who’s pounding ballads; as for the music of Keith Richards’ Rolling Stones, Meg Patterson has only one word: “Dreadful.”