More than seventy years before the Betty Ford Clinic opened in 1982, Charles Towns opened a treatment center on Central Park in Manhattan in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the United States. The likes of W. C. Fields, Lillian Russell, and John Barrymore eventually required the services that Towns Hospital provided. He had perfected what been called the world’s only known opium cure in China after having been sent there as a United States drug treatment ambassador. Upon his return, he gave his secret remedy away and had it published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
How can it be that this most persuasive and influential personality of the 1910s can be almost entirely forgotten today? The year 2015 represents the centennial of the federal law that implemented narcotic prohibition, yet this milestone has been passing almost unnoticed. However, with the magnitude of the illegal drug problem facing the United States today, the origins of federal narcotic legislation may significantly improve our focus on the mistakes of the past so that they may not be repeated.
In late 1934, Bill Wilson had a white-light experience at Towns Hospital, which led to him to become a cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous and author of the book that shared that name. Wilson carefully avoided writing about controversial figures such as Towns and Frank Buchman, founder of the Oxford Group, until many years later. AA also evolved with a singleness of purpose, which remains silent to this day about drugs. Herein one can discover that without Charles Barnes Towns, the struggling fellowship of AA in the late thirties may not have been successful. A fascinating, previously untold story can now be revealed.