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Betty Ford Reflects on Center's 20 Years

ByABC News via logo
October 18, 2002, 4:15 PM

Oct. 20, 2002 — -- Twenty years ago this month, there was a revolution in this country in the way we view and treat substance abuse, and it was called the Betty Ford Center.

Named, of course, after the former first lady, the center, located in Rancho Mirage, Calif., has become affectionately known as "Camp Betty."

The center's goal is treatment without shame.

"Somehow, it was all right for men to kind of kick back and sow their wild oats, but as far as women were concerned it was a real stigma," Betty Ford said. "It's really awesome to me to be at our 20th [anniversary]."

The center is a haven where addicts are addicts, whether they're the former first lady, the guy next door, or the celebrities who seem to frequent the center.

The whole world knows Elizabeth Taylor's been to the center twice, and even met her last husband here.

Rocker Stevie Nicks checked in after a concert for cocaine addiction. Ozzy Osbourne got clean at Betty Ford.

Kelsey Grammer testified about the center to Congress after he got out.

"It takes a sense of community and faith to actually overcome this disease," he told the congressmen.

Ford is characteristically blunt about the mixed blessings of celebrity clients.

"We're happy that they're willing to talk about it, as long as they stay well," she said. "But if they don't stay well, then it's not a big plus for the treatment of this disease."

In a day when first ladies gave teas and cut ribbons, Ford weighed in about abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment.

She shared her breast-cancer diagnosis and mastectomy with the public. She also suffered excruciating pain from a pinched nerve and started to become addicted to painkillers and Valium, something she didn't realize when she was still in the White House.

"I never felt I was addicted to them," she said. "That was not something that went through my head."

But it did have effects.

"It slowed up the way I talked, and it slowed up the way I thought," she said.