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

various kinds."

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

in 1954.

Narconon, which opened without a license, uses textbooks

which are versions of Scientology teachings with the religious

references removed.

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

main campus.

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

to leave.

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 difference."

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

players.

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

"sheer nonsense."

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

Narconon.

"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

treating addiction.

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

control problems.

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

Indian land.

Appeal pending

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

Narconon."

Chelf and Holden left their jobs at Laureate shortly before

the hearing.

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

said.

"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

more."