Pubdate: Thu, 16 Aug 2012
Source: Tampa Bay Times (FL)
Copyright: 2012 St. Petersburg Times
Note: Named the St. Petersburg Times from 1884-2011.
Authors: Joe Childs and Thomas C. Tobin


Already shaken by a series of high-level defections, accounts of 
abuse among its staffers, and the high-profile breakup of Tom Cruise 
and Katie Holmes, the Church of Scientology now faces scrutiny over 
its controversial drug treatment program, Narconon.

Four deaths at Narconon's signature treatment facility in eastern 
Oklahoma have prompted local law enforcement and health officials to 
investigate the center and its program.

The inquiry began after Stacy Dawn Murphy, 20, was found dead in her 
room on July 19 after returning to the facility from a one-day leave. 
The cause of death is under investigation.

Two other clients died within the previous nine months. Another died 
in 2009. In two of those cases, serious health issues were cited; the 
cause of the other death is unclear.

In April, authorities in Quebec shut down a Narconon facility in the 
city of Trois Rivieres, saying certain treatment procedures "may 
represent a health risk."

Church of Scientology public affairs director Karin Pouw said there 
is no suggestion the two investigations "have anything to do with 
Narconon's methods of drug rehabilitation."

She said media have misrepresented facts about the Oklahoma 
investigation, but offered no specifics.

As for recent incidents that generated unfavorable publicity for 
Scientology, Pouw said: "There is no relationship to any of these 
things, other than the continued growth of the Church and its social 
and humanitarian programs."

Narconon centers claim success rates of 75 to 90 percent. But their 
methods, developed by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, have drawn 
fire over the years. They include high doses of niacin and lengthy 
sauna sessions that are said to release stored drug residues from fat 
tissue -- a Hubbard theory contested by many health professionals.

The Narconon network of treatment centers is part of a Church of 
Scientology "sector" called the Association for Better Living and 
Education, or ABLE. It supports and coordinates the church's "social 
betterment" causes, such as combating drug use, advancing human 
rights and improving literacy.

When Cruise, Scientology's most famous parishioner, said in a 2006 
video that Scientologists were "the authorities" on drug treatment, 
he was talking about Narconon. Parishioners are pressed hard to donate.

Now, an unflattering focus on Narconon poses a potential new threat 
to Scientology's image, which has suffered since defectors began 
speaking out in 2009 about staffer abuses and overly aggressive 
fundraising, allegations the church has denied.

Narconon's umbrella organization, Narconon International, was founded 
in 1970 to guide Narconon centers around the world. The nonprofit 
centers pay Narconon International 10 percent of their revenues, 
according to documents the church gave the IRS in 1993.

Although the church does not file IRS returns, its nonreligious, 
nonprofit affiliates report income and expenses. Narconon 
International said in its most recent filing it took in $5.6 million 
in 2010. The organization said it had 53 residential programs across 
the world and that more than 2,800 people graduated from the centers 
that year. An "outcome monitoring" effort found 75 percent of those 
clients were free of drugs in the year after they left.

Three Narconon centers are in Florida -- an outpatient center in 
Clearwater and residential facilities in Spring Hill and Destin. The 
facilities are licensed by the Department of Children and Families. 
Recent inspection results were not immediately available for the 
Clearwater and Spring Hill centers. Inspectors have given the Destin 
facility consistently high performance ratings since 2010.

The Oklahoma facility, known as Narconon Arrowhead, is on Eufaula 
Lake in Pittsburg County, about 90 miles south of Tulsa. It can treat 
as many as 150 to 200 clients.

The center took in $8.6 million in 2010 and spent $7.9 million on 
operating expenses and drug awareness efforts, according to IRS 
filings. It reported helping 529 people with drug rehabilitation 
services and "life skills courses."

Pittsburg Assistant District Attorney Richard Hull said the Sheriff's 
Office and state Mental Health and Substance Abuse officials are 
conducting separate investigations. They are awaiting autopsy 
findings and toxicology reports in Murphy's death, which are expected 
by early September.

Health officials will explore whether there are grounds to seek an 
injunction against Narconon Arrowhead, Hull said. The center is 
cooperating with the investigations, Hull said.

Officials are also investigating the deaths of 21-year-old Hillary 
Ann Holten of Carrollton, Texas; 32-year-old Gabriel W. Graves of 
Owasso, Okla.; and 28-year-old Kaysie Dianne Werninck of St. Augustine.

Holten died on April 11 and Graves on Oct. 26. Holten's autopsy 
report also has not been completed. Her obituary in the Dallas 
Morning News said she died of complications from pneumonia and 
congenital adrenal hyperplasia. The medical examiner could not a find 
a cause of death for Graves.

Werninck died in March 2009 after she was transferred to a Tulsa 
hospital. Her parents sued Narconon Arrowhead, alleging it gave her 
the wrong medication and failed to get her proper care after she 
developed an upper respiratory infection. The family and the center 
settled the case last year.

Narconon Arrowhead director Gary Smith did not respond Wednesday to a 
request for comment. Nor did Narconon International president Clark Carr.

In Quebec, authorities ordered the Narconon in Trois Rivieres to 
close after inspectors found several newly mandated operational 
criteria needed corrections. The center was told to move its 32 
clients to other Narconon facilities. Most were placed in centers in 
the United States, the Gazette in Montreal reported.

Pouw said Quebec's changes to its laws mandating medical 
detoxification have not been adopted by other provinces. Narconon 
facilities remain open there.

David Love, 60, told the Tampa Bay Times this week he spent 11 months 
at the Trois-Riveres center, five months as a client and the 
following six months on staff.

Addicted to painkillers after four back surgeries, he checked himself 
in on Dec. 1, 2008. The center told clients they should expect a 
three-month minimum stay, Love said. Cost was $23,000. The center 
gave Love a discount because he was unemployed, he said.

He started in a "withdrawal unit" with about seven other new 
arrivals, he said. The clients paired up, sat facing one another at 
close distance and practiced making eye contact and other drills 
requiring them to focus.

After nine days, he began a daily regimen of five-hour sauna 
treatments and increasing dosages of niacin, which is a form of 
vitamin B available over the counter. The staff gave him 100 
milligrams the first day and upped his dosages 100 milligrams each 
day thereafter.

On his 26th and final day in the sauna, Love ingested 2,600 
milligrams of niacin, he said. The niacin treatments concerned him 
because he suffers from liver fibrosis, he said.

The sauna treatments were followed by 3 1/2 months of studying 
Hubbard teachings familiar to all Scientologists. He said he knew 
from the start he was in a Scientology environment, but no one 
pressured him to join the church.

He took a job on the center's staff after "graduating" from the 
treatment program. He started as a course room supervisor, paid less 
than minimum wage until he protested, he said. He quit on Nov. 3, 
2009, after arguing with supervisors that the center's advertised 70 
percent success rate was inflated, he said.

Pouw said Love is an extremist who has been trying to generate 
negative coverage of Narconon. Describing Love as "an 
anti-Scientologist," she said "any statements by him are undoubtedly false."
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