"Father of detox" dies in Prague at age 91

Jaroslav Skala, photo: CTK

Jaroslav Skala, a world pioneer in alcohol addiction treatment, died in Prague on Monday at the age of 91. He will be remembered as the man who founded the very first alcohol detox centre in the country, a doctor who turned teetotaler to help his patients, an internationally recognized specialist known as “the father of detox”.

Jaroslav Skala, photo: CTK
Up until the 1950s alcoholics were treated for whatever damage their addiction had inflicted and sent back home where they generally continued along the path of self-destruction. Psychiatrist Jaroslav Skala insisted on going to the root of the problem and treating alcoholism as such. In 1951 he founded a centre for alcoholics at the U Apolinare Hospital in Prague and established a tough detox regime for his patients. Those who survived the grueling three-month cure came out clean. Skala, who headed the centre up until his retirement in 1982, said a complex approach was the only viable solution.

“I consider it a crucial mistake that patients are given a liver transplant without being made to undergo treatment for alcoholism. They leave the hospital with a new liver and drink themselves to death a few years later. I would make people accept more responsibility for their health - in other words - you can have a liver transplant if you make an effort to cure your addiction. We greatly underestimate the danger of alcoholism – it is something that builds gradually and then hits you like a tidal wave.”

Jaroslav Skala wrote more than 100 books on the subject many of which were published abroad. Dr. Ivan Douda who used to work with him at the centre for alcoholics says he was greatly respected abroad where he was known as “the father of detox”:

“He made an impression on everyone he met – he was that kind of man. He had an immensely strong will and was totally committed to helping alcoholics. He demanded a great deal from them and established a regime where he controlled every minute of their day. But he was with them every step of the way. He even stopped drinking alcohol himself saying that he could not preach water and drink wine. He would say: I am doing this for you, to show you that it can be done. His solidarity with patients was exceptional.”

In 2002 Jaroslav Skala was awarded a high state distinction, the Order of Merit for his lifelong work in the field. At the close of his career he said in an interview “Alcohol never gave me anything that I could not find elsewhere.”