Drug Center Challenges State's Authority
By Michael McNutt
November 8, 1990
An Oklahoma City federal judge is being asked to determine whether the state has any authority to license and certify the controversial Narconon drug treatment center near Newkirk.
Attorneys for Narconon filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against Don Anderson, commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and Joan Leavitt, commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Health.
The lawsuit claims the state has no jurisdiction over the drug treatment center since it is located on Indian land. The Narconon Chilocco New Life Center is on the grounds of the old Chilocco Indian School north of Newkirk.
The state mental health board is to meet today at Western State Hospital in Fort Supply to consider whether to certify Narconon's rehabiliation programs. Narconon officials have accused mental health inspectors of bigotry and claim there is a conspiracy within the department to prevent Narconon from being certified.
There have been constant delays in the certification process. A predated letter found in mental health department files indicating certification would be denied "was the last straw," said Gary Smith, president of the center.
"This is a war on drugs, and we can't be messing around with a lot of buffoonery while the list of people needing help gets longer and longer," Smith told supporters at a rally Wednesday at the state Capitol.
Narconon is leasing the 167-acre Chilocco campus for development and operation of its residential drug and alcohol treatment program from the Chilocco Development Authority. Also named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit is the Tonkawa Tribe of Oklahoma, one of five sovereign member tribes of the Chilocco Development Authority.
The center has been embroiled in controversy from the beginning, with some local residents claiming Narconon is linked with Church of Scientology. Narconon officials deny an affiliation with the church, although its treatment methods were developed by church founder L. Ron Hubbard.
The state health department had sought to close the center because its programs were not certified. A district judge instead ordered the state mental health department to speed its review process so a decision could be made this month.
Mental health staff are recommending that the board not approve Narconon for certification. Rosemary Brown, spokeswoman for the mental health department, has said the staff recommendation was prompted by Narconon's failure to allow an independent review team inspect the center's "non-traditional treatment techniques."
Allegations raised by people living near the center of harrassment by Narconon employees, the center's failure to pay contractors and the absence of Narconon staff members at a state training seminar also contributed to the staff's negative recommendation, Brown said.
Smith claimed the department's inspection team included "religious and racial bigots" who are biased against them. Narconon is nationally recognized as a legitmate, successful drug-treatment operation, he said.
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Lee R. West.