Psychiatrist Questions Drug Center's Methods
October 12, 1990
The effectiveness of treating drug or alcohol addicts with saunas and vitamins is questioned by a Tulsa psychiatrist who evaluated Narconon Chilocco New Life Center north of Newkirk.
"No scientifically well-controlled, independent, long-term, outcome studies were found that directly and clearly established the effectiveness of the entire Narconon program in the treatment of chemical dependency," Dr. John Chelf wrote in his report.
The report also reveals that before they enter the program, people who pay from $10,000 to $15,000 for treatment at the Narconon Chilocco New Life Center are required to sign a contract agreeing not to sue Narconon for any damages.
It also shows that some Narconon officials give vague answers when asked about the program's effectiveness.
Chelf said Dr. G. Megan Shields, a California doctor who has written or co-authored several articles on sauna sweat-out, told him, "There is no conclusive evidence. What is conclusive changes from day to day. "
Chelf said when he asked Narconon Chilocco president Gary Smith about controlled studies or research on the treatment program, Smith replied, "There isn't enough research out. "
On why patients were required to fill out agreements releasing Narconon Chilocco from liability and indemnity, Chelf said Smith told him, "We are not obviously doctors. It is a structured legal rudiment to prevent malpractice. We are not saying it's a cure for anything. " Chelf, who visited the facility in April, expressed concerns about the safety of patients who might suffer from drug withdrawal but are not given medical treatment because their symptoms could be misinterpreted as the result of being in a sauna for several hours.
He said Smith told him using the saunas was a safe practice.
"I have personal knowledge of 10,000 people going through the sauna," he said Smith told him. "No one's died or been harmed. "
Chelf said he contacted several chemical dependency programs, and that officials at each said they were unaware of any program but Narconon that used vitamins and saunas to treat patients.
Chelf's report also includes several letters, which he describes as unsolicited, from people opposing the granting of a state license to Narconon Chilocco. Among the letters were those noting concerns that Narconon Chilocco is allegedly a recruiting camp for the Church of Scientology.
William Jarvis, president of the National Council Against Health Fraud Inc., of Loma Linda, Calif., criticized Narconon's use of sauna as treatment.
Quoting a U.S. Food and Drug Administration report, Jarvis wrote, "While sweating may reduce water and salt, it is not generally accepted as a method to reduce toxins. "
Chelf's report, obtained by The Oklahoman through the state's Open Records Act, will be presented to the Oklahoma Board of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services in Oklahoma City.
The board, after almost a year of delays, is scheduled to act on Narconon's request to have its treatment program certified.
The board selected Chelf to evaluate Narconon after Narconon officials succeeded in blocking mental health department workers from acting on the application.
Narconon officials said mental health department workers were biased against their program because of Narconon's ties with the Church of Scientology.
Board members will use Chelf's report to help them determine whether the facility's program meets state standards and should be certified.
Chelf made a site visit, and then agreed to prepare a report only after the state agreed to provide him legal protection in the event representatives of Narconon Chilocco become upset with his findings and sued him.
Smith, Narconon Chilocco's president, said overall he was pleased with Chelf's report.
"It's actually not too bad," he said. "I thought it was going to be something that might be kind of bad but it wasn't, it was overall favorable. "
Smith said he expects about 250 to 300 supporters to attend Friday's meeting in Oklahoma City.
At the time of Chelf's visit, Narconon Chilocco was using a doctor from Arkansas City, Kan., as its medical director.
Smith said Thursday that Narconon Chilocco recently hired Dr. Ray Stowers of Medford as its new medical director. Stowers visits the facility once a week, and Narconon has "24-hour access to him," Smith said.
"With him on board now, there should be no question about safety and effectiveness," Smith said.