Narconon Decision Delayed 2 Months
October 19, 1991
Operators of a controversial substance abuse center will have to wait another two months to see if the center will win state certification.
The Oklahoma State Board of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services voted late Friday night to postpone a decision on the Narconon Chilocco New Life Center until Dec. 13.
The board deliberated for two hours on the application. Board members heard more than 12 hours of testimony in Oklahoma City, including a statement from actress Kirstie Alley, before announcing their decision about 11:45 p.m. During Friday's hearing, one witness testified that the unlicensed Narconon program, which promotes a "totally drug free" treatment program, administers drugs to patients having severe withdrawal.
Narconon seeks a license to operate a 75-bed, non-medical detoxification residential treatment center at the site about six miles north of Newkirk in north-central Oklahoma.
More than 250 people attended the hearing, about 200 of them supporters of the facility.
About a dozen Narconon opponents from Newkirk attended the meeting, held in the Sequoyah Building auditorium at the State Capitol Complex.
Although both sides seemed relieved the hearing was under way, most of the attention seemed to center on Alley, who flew to Oklahoma City from her Encino, Calif., home to speak in support of Narconon.
Alley, who said she broke her cocaine habit after undergoing a Narconon program in Los Angeles, told board members not to worry about details and to certify Narconon Chilocco because its treatment works.
"I think it's the best rehab in the world," said Alley, who has given about $380,000 to Narconon Chilocco for renovation work and scholarships for patients.
Narconon supporters said they had no firm statistics showing its success rate.
Dr. John Chelf, a Tulsa psychiatrist hired by the board to evaluate the program, filed a report questioning its effectiveness.
When Chelf visited Narconon Chilocco in April, he was told patients dependent on alcohol and drugs were treated mostly with saunas and vitamins.
Giving patients only vitamins during the withdrawal process can be risky, Chelf said.
But Friday, Dr. Ray Stowers of Medford, hired by Narconon Chilocco in late August, told board members he prescribed drugs to patients who were going through difficult withdrawal periods.
Stowers said he prescribes medication over the telephone, and a Narconon staff person distributes it.
After some board members questioned why no licensed person, such as a nurse, was on staff to distribute medicine, Narconon lawyer Harry Woods Jr. said the center would hire one.
Guy Hurst, an assistant state attorney general, pointed out the center's policy called for a "totally drug free" program.
John Duff, president of Narconon International in Los Angeles, said the center would change its policy statement to show that drugs are given in some instances.
Board member Murray E. Abowitz, who presided over the hearing, questioned whether a non-medical treatment program could be certified if prescription drugs are administered.
State mental health department staffers are recommending Narconon Chilocco's certification request be denied.
Lawyers for Narconon Chilocco tried Friday to disqualify the mental health department staff, saying the state agency was biased because Narconon Chilocco has ties with the Church of Scientology.
Abowitz ruled that the board would not hear any comments about the Church of Scientology.
The board, he said, was concerned only with the safety and effectiveness of Narconon Chilocco's treatment program.