Deaths at scientology drug treatment program narconon bring investigation heartburn remedy honey

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

After nine days, he joined longer-term clients in the main unit. Ten days later 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.

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.