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How Successful is Teen Challenge?

After Teen Challenge was started the National Institute of Drug Abuse asked Rev. David Wilkerson how successful he thought his program was. Rev. Wilkerson thought that 70% of the Teen Challenge graduates were living drug free lives. Soon after this the federal government funded a one year study on the Teen Challenge program.

Graduates were contacted all over the United States and asked to participate in the study. At that time heroin was the major drug of choice. After completing their work a study was published presenting a 87.5% cure rate for Teen Challenge graduates.

Information on the NIDA study and one done at Northwestern University is below.

Teen Challenge claims of a 70% cure rate for the drug addicts graduation from their program attracted the attention of the U. S. Federal Government in 1973. Most secular drug rehabilitation programs only experienced a cure rate of 1 – 15% of their graduates. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, funded the first year of this study to evaluate the long term results of the Teen Challenge program.

This study focused on all students in the class of 1968 that Brooklyn, NY, Teen Challenge, and then transferred to Rehersburg, PA, for the second half of their training. This follow-up study seven years later (1975) sought to determine six variables: what proportion of the program participants were still drug free, no legal involvements, employed or pursuing education, a part of a family unit, participating in church activities and physical and mental health.

The survey was conducted under the leadership of Dr. Catherine Hess, M.D., the former assistant chief of the Cancer Control Program of the U.S. Public Health Service, who had previously served as the Medical Director for the New York Hospital Methadone Clinic. The main premise of the study was to demonstrate that introduction of a religious component into the treatment of drug addicts is the one aspect which produces the large success rate.

The National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago developed the survey instrument, located survey participants, conducted the personal interviews, and obtained a urine sample to test for drugs. The National Medical Services, Inc., of Philadelphia, PA, conducted the drug screening detection for this population.
Research results were categorized into three groups.

• P1 were students that entered Brooklyn Teen Challenge, but dropped out and never attended the Rehrersburg program.
• P2 were students that completed the Brooklyn program who later dropped out of the Rehrersburg program.
• P3 were graduates of the Rehrersburg Training Center program.

A total of 186 persons were interviewed for this project, P1=70, P2=52, and P3=63. The P3 group of 64 represented 97% of the total population possible. The results of this survey clearly indicated the success of the Teen Challenge program in the following areas:

• The Teen Challenge definition of “drug-free” means abstaining from all use of narcotics, marijuana, alcohol, and cigarettes. 67% of the graduates (P3) are drug-free as indicated by the urinalysis test. (86% stated they were drug-free on the questionnaire.)
• 72% of the graduates (P3) continued their education upon completion of Teen Challenge. The areas include getting their G.E.D., or pursuing college level education.
• 75% of the graduates (p3) indicated their current status as employed. 73% of the graduates are self-supporting by earning their own salary. Of those who are currently employed, 58% have been at their present job for over one year.
• 87.5% of the graduates did not require additional treatment in drug treatment programs after leaving Teen Challenge. Over 90% considered themselves addicted to drugs before entering Teen Challenge.
• 67% of the graduates are regularly attending church. 57% of the graduates are involved in church work.
• 92%of the graduates (P3) report good-excellent health, whereas the numbers are significantly lower for the other two groups, P1=59% and P2=75%.

A study supervised by Northwestern University in Illinois proved again that 86% of Teen Challenge graduates remain drug free after completing the Teen Challenge Program.

The study lasted three years and included graduates from across the United States. The study’s findings demonstrate a marked difference between secular drug treatment programs and Teen Challenge. This survey, like others, attributed the success of Teen Challenge to its spiritual aspect, known as the “Jesus Factor.”

The study was consistent with the findings of a 1994 University of Tennessee study that also showed a phenomenal success rate. The study says that:

• Nearly all graduates have escaped the “revolving door phenomenon” of substance abuse treatment.
• Most students in the program felt that it was a privilege to be there and were thankful for the program.
• Graduates described their experience at Teen Challenge as revolutionary.
• 84% of graduates attend church
• Most secular programs cost from $7,500 to $3,500 for one month. Teen Challenge can help a person for an entire year for a fraction of the cost.
• Graduates were more likely to be living normal lives, holding down jobs, and not needing further treatment.
• The two most powerful features of the program are: work training and discipline.
• Only 41% of other programs’ graduates were employed one and two years later, and 91% of Teen Challenge graduates were employed.
• Society need not write off drug abusers; cures can be expected. Productive participation in society by former addicts is not unrealistic.