Friday Harbor man devotes life to helping others escape addiction

  • Wed Oct 30th, 2019 1:30am
  • Life

In 1986, popular radio commentator and promoter and now longtime islander Pat O’Day walked out of the Schick Shadel Hospital after 10 days of treatment for alcohol, cocaine and marijuana addiction. He has never touched any of the three since.

“I walked out after 10 days to never have another of any of those things,” said O’Day. “And I was still in rock and roll but I never missed any of it.”

A study by the Schick Shadel Hospital of Seattle and the University of Washington used Functional MRI brain scans confirming what O’Day has known for the past three decades — that the Schick Shadel program for chemical dependency treatment really does work.

The Schick Shadel Hospital in Seattle has treated more than 80,000 patients over the past 80 years for alcohol and drug addictions using Chemical Aversion Therapy as opposed to the more mainstream 12 Step Programs or traditional talk therapy used by programs like Alcoholics Anonymous.

According to, “Aversion therapy is a form of counter conditioning that helps remove cravings.”

Dr. Charles Shadel, who created and founded the program, believed that if the physiological cravings for alcohol — caused by the brain’s pleasure centers reacting to the substance and creating an overwhelming desire for the substance — could be eliminated patients would be more able to stay sober.

“Dr. Shadel came up with innovation that’s a solution to alcohol dependency,” said O’Day. “Talk therapies aren’t effective because they don’t shut off the pleasure centers in the brain.”

The study, completed in 2017 and titled The Neurobiological Mechanism of Chemical Aversion (Emetic) Therapy for Alcohol Use Disorder: An fMRI, “Showed significant changes in brain activity among the 13 study subjects, 69 percent of whom reported being still sober 12 months after treatment,” according to the Schick Shadel website. The subjects, who were admitted to the Schick Shadel hospital for alcohol dependency, underwent fMRI brain scans before treatment which showed overwhelming excitement in their brain’s pleasure centers upon being offered the chemical they were dependent on. After four days of treatment the scans showed almost no neurological reaction to the same chemicals, proving success in “Implicating craving reduction as a mechanism of how chemical-aversion therapy is changing patients’ drinking behavior,” said study author Hunter Hoffman, Ph. D.

O’Day explained that the 10-day treatment program has two phases. The first is the Chemical Dependency Aversion treatments which consist of five sessions of electric shocks to the patient’s wrists and five sessions where the patient is given Ipecac Syrup to induce vomiting after consuming alcohol.

The second phase uses Propophal which allows the brain’s conscious mind to sleep while the subconscious mind is still awake. This gives the therapists at Schick Shadel the opportunity to help patients heal past traumas that may have added to their chemical dependencies.

“The brain has been rebooted and cleared up in just 10 days,” said O’Day, who believes so strongly in the program that he and 10 other former patients actually bought the hospital from Schick Razor Company in 2012 after it had fallen into financial distress. O’Day used his own story and his background in radio broadcasting to create advertising for the program and was able to help bring the program up from just over 300 patients a year to 2,000 before later selling it to Universal Health Services.

Intent on staying involved in the program and helping it grow, every nine days O’Day travels to Seattle to give a lecture to the current patients in the program. O’Day tells the new patients his story, which he calls informational and heartwarming. He adds that he is proud of them and assures them they have done nothing wrong, “They just have bad genes.”

“So many patients have been through other programs and failed,” said O’Day. “It’s a wonderful thing for me to be a part of right now. I consider it my life’s calling.”