05/07/2014 04:24 EDT | Updated 07/07/2014 05:59 EDT

Rob Ford Might Be Missing The Point Of Rehab: Experts

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford sits in the council chamber as councillors look to pass motions to limit his powers on Monday November 18, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
TORONTO - Rob Ford is reportedly continuing to work, making calls to constituents, while in an undisclosed treatment centre for alcohol and possibly drug abuse.

If true, the Toronto mayor could be seriously compromising his chances of recovery, say addiction experts, who stress that engaging in work of any kind would be a distraction that runs counter to the intensely focused process of rehabilitation.

"Work is a non-starter," Dr. Raju Hajela, a family physician who specializes in addiction, said Wednesday from Calgary.

"He needs a minimum of three months off work. That would be the usual occupational health recommendation."

Allowing a client to work while in treatment for addiction is "not done," insisted Hajela.

Dennis Long, co-founder and executive director of Breakaway Addictions treatment services in Toronto, agreed it's unlikely that Ford would be allowed to make job-related calls.

"In most cases, people in that kind of treatment are discouraged quite strongly from contacting friends and family, at least in the first couple of weeks of treatment," he said. "So calling constituents would not be on."

Long said he believes Ford, who has admitted to alcohol abuse and smoking crack cocaine, would be involved in a "fairly intensive level of treatment," with his days packed full of meetings, group and individual counselling sessions, and other activities aimed at improving overall health.

"The idea is they want people to be focused on the treatment they're getting and they don't want them distracted by the outside work, and particularly by people who they may have used (addictive substances) with."

Ford was quoted by the Toronto Sun as saying he is in group and one-on-one meetings and feels "great. Rehab is amazing. It reminds me of football camp. Kind of like the Washington Redskins camp I went to as a kid.” Ford has given several exclusive interviews to the newspaper.

While Long said he's never been to football camp, he finds Ford's attitude towards rehab a little disingenuous.

"It might be like football camp in the sense that you've got fairly rigorous activities, but they're quite different in that the rigorous activity he's being asked to do is to take a look at himself and try to figure out how to change his life, which I don't think they do in football camp," he said somewhat wryly.

Ford — who has repeatedly says he plans to run for re-election in the fall — also told the newspaper his rehab mates include two doctors, a "captain of industry" and a professional athlete.

Long said if the mayor is being allowed to make job-related calls — or is not, but is making them "sub rosa" — it also could compromise others' attempts to stick to the program and get clean.

"The whole point of being in treatment is that you and all the other folks there are equals in that you're in treatment, and whatever you did and whatever kind of status you had outside of the program is immaterial.

"You're all there to work on the same stuff."

The mayor has not revealed where he is receiving treatment, and Hajela wonders if the politician's claim that he is still working to help constituents is just a ruse.

"The idea of addiction is connected with escape, not dealing with reality," he said. "So to pretend that he is well and he is taking care of constituents is just not reality.

"And unfortunately, that's where you can even go further and say this is part of his illness, that he gets his strokes from creating this image that everything is OK. And that actually keeps him sick because he doesn't realize what the disease is and how it's driving him."

Some people question whether the mayor, who has been caught in a number of highly publicized deceptions, is really in an addiction treatment centre at all. His lawyer, Dennis Morris, insisted this week that Ford is indeed getting in-patient substance abuse treatment.

"Someone asked me today if my bullshit meter went off, and I have to say it's been ringing fairly constantly," admitted Long. "He may be in a treatment program, it's entirely possible, but it just doesn't ring true at the end of the day. So I would want to know more."

Still, if Ford were to lift the lid on the facility's whereabouts, it would be mobbed with media — "and that's not good," he said.

"But I have to tell you, I'm skeptical."

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