Pubdate: Mon, 26 May 2014
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2014 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Nanette Asimov
Page: A1


Scientology-Linked Notions Discredited by State in '05

Narconon is back in California public schools.

The Scientology-linked antidrug program visited classrooms freely for 
years until 2005, when medical experts and the state Department of 
Education determined it was promoting bogus science. The alarm went 
up a decade ago after The Chronicle revealed that Narconon's antidrug 
messages to students were based not on medical evidence, according to 
the experts, but on the practices of Scientology.

Narconon officials say the program is secular and that a firewall 
exists between it and the Church of Scientology. In fact, the 
connection to the religion was not readily apparent, a public school 
teacher told The Chronicle.

"I'm not in the business of miseducation, so if I know something is 
wrong I'm not going to keep teaching it," said Heather Rottenborn, 
who teaches biology and anatomy at Ann Sobrato High in Morgan Hill 
and was surprised to learn of Narconon's connection to Scientology. 
Her school has hosted a Narconon lecturer in several classes since at 
least 2011.

Narconon is based on concepts developed by L. Ron Hubbard, the late 
science-fiction writer who created the Church of Scientology and 
Dianetics in the 1950s. The religion opposes drugs and alcohol, which 
practitioners believe interfere with achieving a state of mental 
purity that Scientology calls "Clear."

The antidrug message and its related notions of how drugs work in the 
body - including the idea, rejected by medical experts, that drugs 
reside in body fat for years and can cause people to feel high during 
times of stress - are part of the Narconon program and drug education 
materials the group currently makes available online.

Teacher confusion

One science teacher from a Bay Area school that has hosted Narconon 
told The Chronicle that she believed what the lecturers taught her 
students about drugs residing in body fat.

"I learned that in my training," the teacher said firmly. "I'm very 
familiar with that concept."

She began to have doubts, however, after learning that the state's 
review had rejected the notion as pseudoscience and that it was an 
idea from Scientology.

"I would never have guessed. I need to double-check now," the teacher 
said, and asked that her name not be used.

The California Department of Education spent up to $30,000 to review 
Narconon's claims in 2005 before issuing a strong warning to schools 
about Narconon.

"Narconon's drug prevention program does not reflect accurate, 
widely-accepted medical and scientific evidence," Jack O'Connell, 
then the state superintendent of public instruction, told schools in 
a letter posted on the department's website Feb. 24, 2005. Department 
officials said they stand by those findings today.

The department lacks the authority to oust programs, but some school 
districts banned Narconon outright, including Los Angeles and San 
Francisco, which had its own medical experts review the curriculum.

Yet Narconon has given free presentations in at least 28 California 
public schools in other districts since 2007, The Chronicle found.

Thirteen are in the Bay Area, in Fremont, Los Altos, Morgan Hill, San 
Jose, San Ramon, Santa Clara and Santa Rosa.

Narconon officials say the curriculum has been "carefully revised" 
over the past decade. But they declined to explain how and would not 
allow a Chronicle reporter to sit in on a lecture. One school that 
had invited a reporter to sit in on a Narconon presentation canceled 
it when told of the state's findings.

Narconon curriculum

However, The Chronicle examined two sets of Narconon curriculum, 
schools. Both share concepts with Scientology. The "tone scale," for 
example, is a Scientology doctrine dealing with emotions that is 
explained on the church's website and featured in student exercises 
in the Narconon curriculum.

Narconon officials proudly attest to their presence in the schools.

"Drug education specialists from Narconon Vista Bay travel from 
Monterey to South Lake Tahoe, and from Santa Rosa to Sacramento, 
visiting middle schools and high schools," Clark Carr, president of 
Narconon International and a Scientologist, wrote last August in 
promotional materials for an annual golf tournament in Berkeley's 
Tilden Park to raise funds for Narconon's free school visits.

"In the last couple of years, the number of youth who heard the 
anti-drug message have increased from 11,000 to 22,000," Carr claimed 
in the promotion.

Narconon International, in Los Angeles County, is the headquarters of 
the organization, which has centers around the world, including 
Narconon Vista Bay in Watsonville, that offer drug rehabilitation 
services. Carr, who spoke extensively with The Chronicle a decade 
ago, declined new requests for an interview. But he sent a statement 
saying that Narconon's revised curriculum "is getting terrific 
response from the students and teachers. ... Drug abuse prevention 
services are an important part of Narconon's approach to handling 
drug addiction."

He added: "Narconon has been responding to increasing demand from 
schools in Northern California. Narconon provides this program as a 
public service at no charge, funded entirely by Narconon centers."

Scientology, created in 1951, won tax-exempt church status from the 
Internal Revenue Service in 1993. Hubbard died in 1986. Soon 
afterward, his followers legally grouped his many enterprises into 
religious and secular divisions.

The Scientologists created the nonprofit Association for Better 
Living and Education in 1988 to oversee four secular programs for 
delivering Hubbard's ideas to the public: The Way to Happiness 
Foundation to promote his 21 "moral precepts"; Applied Scholastics, 
an education program; Criminon, a "life improvement" course for 
prison inmates; and Narconon.

Narconon International has an income of nearly $16 million, IRS 
records show. Another 22 Narconon centers, many of them also 
identified in the records as Narconon International, exist across the 
country, from Florida to Hawaii.

A center at 262 Gaffey Road in Watsonville is called Narconon 
International on the IRS records, but is named Narconon Vista Bay or 
Narconon Redwood Cliffs on websites. The site collected revenue of 
more than $12 million in 2011, IRS records show. The documents also 
show that the job title for Juan Carlos R. Ubillus, who does Narconon 
school lectures, is "senior director of expansion."

Negative review

The Vista Bay website features dozens of appreciative letters from 
teachers across California thanking Narconon or Ubillus for school 
lectures. All were written since the state's negative review of 
Narconon's curriculum in 2005.

The review was conducted for the state Department of Education by 14 
independent experts in substance abuse and health education - 
including medical doctors and university faculty - under the auspices 
of the California Healthy Kids Resource Center, a state-funded branch 
of the Alameda County Office of Education that maintains a lending 
library of approved health education materials for educators.

Among the inaccuracies the agency found:

Drugs are stored in fat and later released, causing the person to 
feel high again and want to use again.

Drugs burn up vitamins and nutrients, resulting in pain and relapse. 
1Marijuana-induced loss of vitamin and nutrients causes the "munchies."

Researchers also found misleading statements in Narconon's materials, 
including the idea that drugs are "poison" and that they "ruin 
creativity and dull senses." And they criticized the use of 
ex-addicts as presenters because it "may tacitly reinforce student 
perceptions that drug use really isn't risky."

Despite the inaccuracies the California review found in Narconon's 
curriculum, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists 
seven Narconon treatment centers on its National Directory of Drug 
and Alcohol Treatment Programs, including one California site, Vista 
Bay. Inclusion means the programs are licensed in their states and 
have filled out a federal survey for statistical purposes.

The state agency that licenses such facilities, the California 
Department of Health Care Services, said it is investigating four 
complaints against the Vista Bay facility, but would not release 
information until the inquiries are concluded.

Scientology similarities

Narconon operates on Hubbard's idea that drugs nestle in body fat but 
leak out and cause people to feel high all over again, even years later.

"One does not need to run a marathon to have them re-released. It 
could be as simple as walking to the mailbox or getting in an 
argument with a family member where stress and increased heart rate 
and blood pressure occurs," according to one Narconon website. "Once 
these toxins are re-released the person will get a craving, thought, 
urge, sometimes can taste [sic] or smell the drug or feel the effects 
of it and they then go and use the drug or alcohol and relapse occurs."

Narconon centers rely on saunas, which participants believe sweat out 
drugs from fat.

"Our program utilizes vitamin and mineral therapy, nutrition and a 
dry sauna in a process that removes the residual drugs lodged in the 
body, greatly decreasing the chance of relapse," according to the 
Narconon Vista Bay website.

It's a belief shared by the Church of Scientology.

"In the secular setting, it's Narconon. In the church, it's the 
Purification handling," a church spokeswoman told The Chronicle in 2004.

According to Hubbard's Scientology text "Clear Body, Clear Mind," 
drugs create negative "mental image pictures" that interfere with the 
ability to achieve "mental and spiritual gain."

The church's website explains that "such pictures are actually 
three-dimensional, containing color, sound and smell, as well as 
other perceptions."

Narconon encourages its lecturers to introduce similar concepts to students.

'Drugs are ... poison'

"Our take-home message is that drugs are essentially poison," 
Narconon's Carr told The Chronicle in 2004. "This is how we basically 
explain it to them. Drugs scramble pictures. When people take drugs, 
they affect the mental pictures."

Mental pictures are the subject of Lesson 5 in Narconon's 2008 "Drug 
Education High School Curriculum," available free on the Web. It 
doesn't mention Scientology. But the book guides the presenter to 
tell students to think of "pictures" of good things they've 
experienced and illustrates the concept as rectangles emanating from 
a person's head. The book has the presenter explain that drug use 
eliminates certain pictures, leaving "blank spots in the memory."

A thicker, 2005 version of the curriculum called "Drug Education 
Presentation Scripts" currently for sale on the Narconon website 
includes ideas discredited by medical experts and addiction 
specialists for the state and for San Francisco Unified School 
District. The curriculum says drugs cause vitamin deficiency and 
nestle in fat for long periods.

The book tells the instructor to point to an illustration of "drugs 
stored in the fat" and tell students about what happened five years 
after he last smoked marijuana, drank alcohol and took cocaine.

In the story, the instructor is in a Narconon sauna to "flush the old 
drugs out" and tells students: "Whoa, I start feeling kind of weird 
. the next thing I know, there's purple frogs and 'Mickey Mouses' 
doing somersaults through the middle of the sauna."

The script has the instructor tell students that after a month of 
daily saunas, drugs were "pouring out of my body." And once the 
saunas were done, "I did an IQ test and my score shot up 22 points."

The 2008 version for high school students simply tells students that 
drugs "stuck in the body" affect health "negatively."

Despite the state's warning in 2005, dozens of California public 
schools have welcomed Narconon into their classrooms.

"Students now have a broad understanding of drug addiction, its 
consequences, and the path they would need to take if they had to go 
to rehabilitation," one teacher from Irvington High in Fremont wrote 
in a thank-you letter to Narconon on May 2, 2012.

The teacher declined to talk about Narconon.

At Santa Rosa High, a teacher wrote Narconon in 2011 that the lecture 
to her Life Skills class was "poignant and powerful ... awe inspiring."

The school did not return calls.

Appreciated free lecture

The health department chair at Mt. Pleasant High in San Jose told 
Narconon in 2009 that her health budget was only $150, so she 
appreciated the free "message of what drugs can do to your body, 
brain & lives."

But other educators, like Rottenborn, were appalled to learn from The 
Chronicle that they had been relying on a program the state had rejected.

One school, Santa Clara High, abruptly canceled a Narconon lecture 
booked for Feb. 27 after Principal Greg Shelby learned of the state's review.

"Santa Clara Unified teachers teach the science of drug effects on 
the human body using district and state aligned, research-based 
science standards," spokeswoman Jennifer Dericco said, explaining the 

Steve Heilig of the San Francisco Medical Society, one of five 
experts who evaluated Narconon for the San Francisco Unified School 
District in 2004, is now urging school districts to check with the 
state when searching for drug education programs.

"There has been no valid, peer-reviewed publications or other 
scientific advances supporting Narconon's theories since our initial 
evaluation," Heilig said. "One imperative of drug education is that 
we not deceive students, as once they discover that you are not 
telling them factual information, they are likely to disbelieve 
everything you say."

Yet in his statement, Carr said the Narconon curriculum "has been 
carefully revised and empirically tested and validated through a 
peer-reviewed study."

He did not identify the study or respond to questions from The 
Chronicle about how the curriculum had changed. But an evaluation 
endorsing Narconon's methods appeared in the online journal 
"Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention and Policy" in March 2008.

Critics say that study is a self-funded paper co-authored by a former 
Narconon official, Marie Cecchini. The paper contains a disclosure 
that Cecchini spent two years running a Narconon center.

'A flawed study'

"Overall, my impression is that this is a flawed study with modest 
results that at best say that the Narconon program seems to be better 
than nothing - but maybe only a little better. And even that isn't 
certain," said David Touretzky, a computer science professor at 
Carnegie Mellon University and a leading critic of Scientology.

Among the problems cited is that the study compares a largely female 
group of students (those receiving Narconon) with a group of largely 
male students (non-Narconon).

"Since young males have greater risk-taking behavior, that alone 
invalidates the study in my opinion," Touretzky said. "This 
discrepancy is not even acknowledged in the article, much less explained."

Tom Herman, administrator of the Coordinated School Health and Safety 
Office at the California Department of Education, said state 
officials stand by their 2005 findings about Narconon.
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