In this first part of the program a person gets a complete physical by our Medical Director, who is on call 24 hours a day. A withdrawal program is then written up according to the individual needs of that person. The program will assist the individual to stop current drug use with minimal discomfort through proper nutrition, vitamins and care from experienced Narconon staff and a qualified nurse who is available 24 hours a day.
[Pamphlet issued by Narconon Chilocco, Oklahoma c. 1992]
The Narconon First Step Program, otherwise commonly referred to as "Drug Free Withdrawal", is essentially an orientation stage. It aims to get an addict to cease drug use without using "bridging" drugs such as methadone or painkillers to relieve the often agonising withdrawal symptoms which result. Although Narconon denies that it is a "cold turkey" approach, it is that, in effect. Such methods pose significant risks - see "Is Narconon Safe? - Cold Turkey" for more on this topic. The only alleviation that Narconon provides are courses of vitamins - not a great deal of use to someone whose brain chemistry has been altered by drugs - and "simple procedures to help the addict to keep his attention extroverted on his environment and to remain in control of his cravings" ["Narconon: A Workable Program" - <http://www.freedommag.org/english/vol32I1/page28.htm>].
These procedures are supervised by a "Withdrawal Specialist", whose activities are described by Narconon's Stone Hawk, Michigan branch:
During the "Drug-Free" Withdrawal stage, a Withdrawal Specialist administers to the client, who is trained in different techniques to help the person cope with the withdrawal period. These techniques involve the use of a Vitamin regime supplemented with amino acids and minerals. During this stage "assists" are also incorporated to help get the individual oriented with his/her environment, to get them in communication with the body's natural healing processes and to deliver the person from the constant obsession to use that is common in the withdrawing drug addict.
["The Three Phases of Narconon® Program" - <http://www.narconon-stonehawk.com/phases.html>]
"Assists" are a Scientology form of "laying on hands" or faith healing, claimed (without the support of any hard evidence) to relieve the physical effects of illnesses and injuries. They are very definitely a religious practice, despite Narconon's claims to be secular (see "Narconon and Scientology: Doctrines" for more). In brief, they involve another person - in this case, presumably the Withdrawal Specialist - placing a finger on a sore body part and instructing the client to "Feel my finger." The client is supposed to acknowledge that the finger has been felt. This drill is performed repeatedly on and around the affected area until the client "has a cognition". According to L. Ron Hubbard, this is accompanied by "a surge of electrical charge". Needless to say, this somewhat bizarre practice has no medical value whatsoever and is based on fundamental misconceptions about how the nervous system actually works (see "Hubbard's Junk Science - Touch Assists" for more).
A fuller description of the use of assists can be found in the online Scientology Handbook, "Helping Others Recover from Illness and Injuries" (http://www.scientologyhandbook.org/sh6.htm).
Strangely, Narconon's disavowal of drugs does not appear to have been universal. The State of Oklahoma found that "Narconon clients are routinely administered clonidine", a hypertensive agent used to lower blood pressure and reduce withdrawal symptoms from various addictive substances. ["Clonidine for smoking cessation (Cochrane Review)" - <http://www.update-software.com/ccweb/cochrane/revabstr/ab000058.htm>] Narconon Oklahoma's medical director, Dr. Ray Stowers, admitted in an hearing in Oklahoma City on October 24, 1991 that he and his staff also prescribed Valium and sedatives to patients going through difficult withdrawals. However, the State of Oklahoma found that "Narconon fails to provide adequate supervision for clients prescribed this medication given this drug's risks and potential for adverse consequences. Such failure to adequately supervise endangers the safety, health and/or the physical or mental well being of the Narconon clients." ["Findings of Fact regarding the Narconon-Chilocco Application For Certification", Board of Mental Health, State of Oklahoma, 13 December 1991] It is not clear whether this was an isolated incident but it does suggest that at least one medical doctor hired by Narconon felt that a drug-free approach was not sufficient. Dr Stowers, for his part, no longer appears to be working for Narconon.