Founders of defunct drug rehab program involved in teen drug war

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- In suburban neighborhoods throughout Florida, behind neatly manicured lawns, were host homes for a controversial drug rehabilitation program called STRAIGHT, Inc.

Jason Fielder, who was sent to program in 1987 when he was just 14 years old, says the rules were extremely strict.

"Everything was locked, the windows were bolted shut," Fielder told First Coast News. "If you had to use the bathroom at night there was an empty water jug that we would have to urinate in and share."

The battle lines in the so-called "war on drugs" have shifted in recent years. But even as medicinal marijuana moves toward a November 2014 vote, prominent Florida businessman Mel Sembler continues to fight make sure this state's laws don't budge. His past involvement in the now-defunct Straight program continues to be controversial -- and will soon to be magnified in a documentary film.

Straight, Inc. had locations throughout the U.S. starting in 1976, with its heyday the Just Say No era of the 1980s. It folded in 1993 following a revoked license, a ream of lawsuits, and former clients sharing claims of abuse, rape and suicide attempts.

Founders Mel and Betty Sembler have since been recognized by Gov.Rick Scott for their work on drug prevention and addiction. And Betty Sembler currently serves as the Chair of the Drug Free America Foundation -- formerly Straight, Inc. The group's advisory board includes high profile faces like Jeb Bush, and receives substantial federal aid. In 2011, DFA received nearly $900,000 in contributions and grants. More than $300,000 of those dollars came from taxpayers.

"These abusive programs are still alive and they're in the state of Florida," said Fielder.

Sembler declined to be interviewed for this story, and Straight officials have consistently denied claims of abuse, touting a successful graduation rate of more than 12,000 young people nationwide, in their 17 years of existence.

But a documentary film, called "Fix My Kid," offers a very different view, however. Tonight at 11, we'll give an inside look into what the so-called "Survivors of STRAIGHT" went through and the documentary film that they hope will get their story out.


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