Last in a series
More than 250 people crammed into the hearing room Oct.
18 when actress Kirstie Alley of the TV comedy "Cheers"
arrived in Oklahoma City to urge the state to certify
Narconon Chilocco New Life Center.
The stage was set for the most controversial health-care
debate since Oral Roberts proposed the City of Faith Medical
Center in Tulsa.
Narconon attorney Harry Woods Jr. has portrayed the nearly
two-year battle over the drug and alcohol treatment program
as "a compelling story of constitutional impairments of
Patrick Ryan, attorney for the Oklahoma Board of Mental
Health and Substance Abuse Services, called the conflict
"a mininightmare. We got to feeling like we're letting
this little tail wag the whole dog."
Los Angeles-based Narconon opened its program in February
1990 after signing a lease with five Oklahoma Indian tribes
to use 167 acres of the former Chilocco Indian School campus
in Kay County near the Kansas border.
The Narconon treatment, created by science-fiction writer
L. Ron Hubbard, consists of exercising, taking high doses
of vitamins, spending as much as five hours a day in a sauna
and completing eight courses in self-help and ethics.
Hubbard founded the controversial Church of Scientology
Narconon, which opened without a license, uses textbooks
which are versions of Scientology teachings with the religious
Tribes question agreement
The state was not the only entity unhappy with Narconon.
Representatives of the tribes who signed the lease were
having second thoughts, according to Robert Chapman, chairman
of Chilocco Development Authority. It consists of leaders
of the Pawnee, Ponca, Kaw, Tonkawa and Otoe-Missouria tribes.
The tribes were supposed to receive 10 percent of the gross
revenues from Narconon in exchange for the lease of the
Chapman said payments were slow. Some tribal members questioned
the amounts and asked to inspect Narconon's books.
"The day before the meeting, all of a sudden we receive
a $10,000 check from Narconon saying, `Oops, we overlooked
this somehow,' " Chapman said.
Della Warrior, chairwoman of the Otoe-Missouria tribe, said
the representative from her tribe was not given enough data
at the meeting to calculate if the payments were correct.
"Narconon had its attorney there. They tried to intimidate
us," she said. "We got some information, but not much
- not enough."
Gary Smith, president of Narconon Chilocco, said, "Our
records have always been open. In fact, we met for four
or five hours with Wanda Stone of the Kaw tribe."
Stone, chairperson of the tribe, disputed the claim, saying
tribal committee members left within an hour because they
were not given the records.
The Kaw and Ponca tribes passed resolutions asking Narconon
One tribe backs program
Narconon's lone supporter on the board was Virginia Combrink,
president of the Tonkawa tribe. The tribe passed a resolution
backing the program.
"We invited them in; we should support them," Combrink
said. "We should have organized our own mental health board
and written our own laws. We didn't. So now we are standing
here red-faced, depending on the state."
Meanwhile, the town of Newkirk, seven miles from the Chilocco
campus, had been provided a steady dose of the nationwide
media view of Scientology.
Robert Lobsinger, owner of the Newkirk Herald Journal, reprinted
a 1990 Los Angeles Times series that was critical of the
church and a Time magazine cover story in May 1991, titled
"Scientology: the Cult of Greed."
Lobsinger, who sometimes referred to Hubbard's followers
as Rondroids in his editorials, told his readers in May:
"Narconon is still unlicensed, uncertified, unsavory and
unsafe, trying to market their brand of `religion' in a
medical package, and hoping the state people won't notice
The Mental Health board hearing in October droned on for
a marathon 15 hours. Narconon presented a slate of testimonials
and expert medical opinions.
Actress praises program
Kirstie Alley is the international Narconon spokesman. Although
her Narconon treatment was provided privately in her California
home, she praised the Oklahoma program.
"I did cocaine a lot," Alley said of her two-year drug
habit. She credited Narconon with keeping her free of drugs.
After she stopped using drugs, "I started having real relationships.
I married a really hot-looking guy. I got the opportunity
to have a real happy life," Alley said in an interview
after the hearing.
Narconon's primary expert medical witness was Dr. Forest
Tennant, executive director of Community Health Projects
Medical Group in West Covina, Calif.
He was touted by Narconon attorney Woods as "former drug
czar of the NFL and one of the most knowledgeable people"
on drug treatment.
Tennant had been appointed as National Football League drug
adviser in 1986 by Pete Rozelle, who then was commissioner,
under a new get-tough drug program.
Tennant resigned the NFL post in April 1990 after a Washington,
D.C., television investigation. It portrayed him as operating
a slipshod program that sometimes mixed up drug samples,
betrayed confidentiality and selectively punished black
At that time, Tennant offered addicts a $19.95 mail-order
"Stop Cocaine Kit." He later withdrew the self-help kit
from the market because "it didn't work," he said.
The special report by WJLA-TV quoted a letter by Tennant
to the state of California in which he called drug counseling
Counseling a key
Counseling was a key ingredient for Narconon, which boasted
that it operated a drug-free program and was applying for
a non-medical license.
Tennant told the TV station, "(With) the addicted user,
you forget counseling . . . . They just need a clinic
that's got a good nurse and a doctor who are going to give
them some medicine to get them off. That's all they need."
Neither Tennant's counseling theories nor his controversial
NFL background was mentioned at the Mental Health Board
hearing in October, at which he wholeheartedly endorsed
"I can state without reservation that the center's program
is consistent with generally accepted practices of drug
and alcohol rehabilitation," Tennant testified.
He became vague when pressed by state attorneys on the safety
of Narconon's sweat-out program in which patients gradually
build up to sitting in a sauna with temperatures as high
as 180 degrees for five hours daily.
Sweating is supposed to rid the body of fat, stored drugs
and chemicals, according to Narconon theory.
"The sauna program . . . looks like a lot of fun," Tennant
said. "People enjoy it. They say it helps them. Scientifically,
I really don't know. There's no evidence that it helps scientifically."
"Does it work? Beats me . . . . But what's important
is they (sauna baths) don't apparently hurt."
The state's chief medical consultant at the hearing was
Dr. John Chelf, a Tulsa psychiatrist who specializes in
He reported that Narconon was in "substantial compliance"
in completing paperwork for its application, but he cautioned
that "does not necessarily establish safety or efficacy."
No long-term studies
had been conducted on the Narconon program. It has been
in existence since 1966, when it was used in an Arizona
prison. The program operates 24 centers, mostly in Europe.
Chelf said a serious risk existed because staff members
were not medically trained.
They easily could make errors in judgment and not be able
to distinguish symptoms of drug withdrawal from dehydration
or hallucinations resulting from sitting in the sauna too
long, he said.
Through Chelf's testimony, the public got a look at the
unique ethics and self-help manuals written by Hubbard and
also used in his church.
Chelf described training routines in which a Narconon patient
chooses a partner called a twin. The two sit 3 feet in front
of each other for hours. They cannot blink, speak, fidget,
giggle or fall asleep.
Narconon also requires patients to "bullbait," a confrontational
exercise in which partners take turns trying to make each
other react to verbal abuse.
"The purpose is to find your (partner's) button, then repeatedly
push the same button until it no longer produces a reaction,"
Chelf said. "I don't know if it's a harmful thing to do,
but I do question it."
Narconon training director Cheri Armstrong said the drills
teach communication skills and the ability to confront and
Debating `just cause'
Chelf was interested in item 12 of Narconon's honor code:
"Never fear to hurt another in a just cause."
"Who's going to decide what the just cause is?" Chelf
asked. "Many students who are drug addicts have sometimes
antisocial personality disorders . . . ."
"And I raise the question: Is it appropriate for a treatment
facility to teach ethics to their students?"
Gary Smith, Narconon Chilocco president, later elaborated
on the reason for the "just-cause" portion of the code.
"Our viewpoint always has and always will be that when
someone has some vested interest or hidden agenda or reason
to attack some kind of drug program that has a track record
of success, then we feel the true motives of that person
need to be made public."
It was midnight when the hearing in October adjourned. The
board noted 13 defects in the program and gave Narconon
several weeks to correct them.
Although Narconon reported that it had hired four nurses
and had begun to train staff members in cardiopulmonary
resuscitation and how to take vital signs, the board voted
in December against certifying the program. The board declared
the program "unsafe and ineffective."
The Newkirk newspaper took aim at Alley, whom Lobsinger
dubbed "Ms. Bimbo Barmaid," for her statements attacking
the board after the vote.
Then Lobsinger renewed his call for the treatment center
to leave the state.
"Narconon is dangerous and doesn't work," he wrote. "They
might as well be trying to teach a pig to sing. Which wastes
a lot of time and irritates the pig."
Although Narconon's court order allowing it to remain open
expired Feb. 10, Smith pledged that it will not close, stating
that the program is outside state authority on American
Woods filed an appeal in Oklahoma County District Court
which is scheduled for a hearing May 15.
Among his claims of abuses by the state, Woods said Chelf
had a conflict of interest because he formerly had worked
with mental health board member Dr. Dwight Holden at Laureate
Psychiatric Hospital in Tulsa.
Woods contended that Holden should have abstained from voting
because Laureate is "in direct economic competition with
Chelf and Holden left their jobs at Laureate shortly before
This week, the Bureau of Indian Affairs gave Narconon until
March 25 to either comply with state mental health regulations
or send its six Indian patients to other centers.
Smith blamed Narconon's problems on prejudice against Scientology.
"My personal opinion is that religion has very much to
with it. In fact, it has everything to do with it," he
"It was not until October of this year that we were able
to present the Narconon program for itself - where it was
agreed (that) Scientology was not to be an issue."
Looking back at the lengthy trail of court documents, neither
Woods nor Ryan would predict an end to the saga.
"You know they'll have their day in court," said Ryan.
"They've had many of them. They're going to have a few