Is Narconon Safe?
Poorly trained staff

Last updated
5 November 2002
Contents > Is Narconon Safe? > Poorly trained staff

Another significant concern that has been raised by studies of Narconon's programme has been the quality of the staff. The State of Oklahoma's examiners reported that

Narconon employs staff inadequately educated and trained in the care and treatment of drug and alcohol abuse clients. Such a practice endangers the safety, health and/or the physical or mental well being of the clients of Narconon ...

Narconon hires former students to work at Narconon-Chilocco immediately upon graduation and the former students work directly with the present students. While former patients of drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinics can be employed in such clinics after graduation, the former patient's recovery from his addiction should be established with more passage of time to ensure sobriety and to avoid putting patients in contact with addicts who are not fully recovered. This practice could negatively impact the safety and effectiveness of the program.
["Findings of Fact regarding the Narconon-Chilocco Application For Certification by the Board of Mental Health", State of Oklahoma, 13 December 1991]

There is some anecdotal evidence to support in practice the Oklahomans' concern about the suitability of the individuals hired by Narconon. The organisation's hiring practices were strongly criticised in an open letter published on the Internet in 2002, written by an ex-staff member at Narconon Southern California who had been treated and subsequently worked there from June 2000 to about February 2001:

[S]everal of the staff members [at Narconon Southern California] relapsed while working at Narconon and Narconon Southern California admitted for treatment numerous staff members from the Narconon facilities in Northern California and Oklahoma who had relapsed while working at those facilities.

Narconon patients are heavily pressured in to become staff members upon graduation. ... When I returned to Narconon as a patient in December of 2000, I was immediately put to work at the Narconon facility as a "detoxification specialist". I had no medical training, was not at all familiar with how to care for and treat people detoxifying from drugs and alcohol, yet worked several hours a day performing such duties. I had added to my list of duties computer work because of my background in the Internet. Working 12-hour shifts as both a detoxification specialist and online marketer for Narconon, I spent no time working on any of the methods Narconon claimed would help my rehabilitation. Concerned over this and the financial situation I was falling in to being unable to get a job or support myself, I was pressured by Narconon staff members to sign a contract to work for them. Already having worked 12 hours a day, 6 days a week for no reimbursement from Narconon and being told my work on their behalf was part of my "rehabilitation program", I had no money and my family was having trouble supporting me. Finally, Narconon staff members told me working long-term for them was the only solution and the only way I would get paid for the work I was doing. Hesitantly but succumbing to intense pressure from the staff at Narconon, I signed the 5-year employment and obligation contract so as to finally get reimbursed for the work I had already done for them. Furthermore, I was told that it was my duty to work for them. Narconon staff members told me I would relapse if I went to work anywhere else and tried to live life on my own. They told me I was indebted to them for my sobriety and therefore owed them at least several years of work.
[Open letter to California Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, 20 January 2002 - <>]

In addition, the fact that most Narconon staff have only basic training in medical matters means that they may not be able to properly recognise serious medical symptoms. A (usually Scientologist) doctor gives written clearance to individuals to undergo the "detoxification" process, but the process itself is supervised by a non-medical individual known as the "New Life Detoxification Program In-Charge". In 1974, this was such a major concern to the California State Department of Health's inspection team that it recommended that "detoxification procedures should be stopped on the premises since their procedures are without proper medical supervision and may be dangerous." A similar concern was raised by the State of Oklahoma's team in 1991, which pointed out that the lack of medical expertise could lead to symptoms being missed or misdiagnosed.

Training courses

The Detoxification Program In-Charge has to undergo a training course, which is one of the few documents to have leaked out of Narconon, albeit in an incomplete form. The "New Life Detoxification Program In-Charge Course" is effectively a Scientology training document - it is very similar to the "Purification Rundown Program In-Charge Course" used by the Church of Scientology - and is copyrighted by the Church of Spiritual Technology in its business alias of the "L. Ron Hubbard Library". It gives a unique insight into the training given to Narconon staff members.

The course requires the trainee to have done the "Narconon Withdrawal Specialist Course" - a Withdrawal Specialist is a supervisor of Narconon's Drug-Free Withdrawal programme, trained in the proper regime of vitamins (as defined by Hubbard) and in the use of "touch assists", a form of Scientology faith healing. Like other Narconon courses, it is conducted using Hubbard's "study technology". The entire course takes "One week full time (8 hours per day, five days per week)."

The first element which the trainee has to study is Hubbard's "Study Lectures", starting with "Studying: Introduction". (This lecture, incidentally, is undeniably Scientology, being littered with Scientology jargons and concepts; it is a Scientology practitioner's training course borrowed from Hubbard's "Saint Hill Special Briefing Course" and is listed as one of the "Scientology Books and Materials" on the official Scientology website. See <>). The trainee has to demonstrate "What fixed opinions have to do with judgment". The ostensible purpose of this question is to encourage the trainee to be receptive to new ideas; Hubbard deprecates "know it alls" who rely on received wisdom. In practice, as the lecture itself makes clear, the aim is to encourage the trainee to dispense with "theoretical" knowledge gleaned from books or lectures that might contradict Hubbard's "practical" (but pseudoscientific) knowledge. It is almost certainly no coincidence that this particular element of an hour-long lecture should be virtually the first item studied by trainees, as it would put the trainee in an appropriate frame of mind to ingest the rest of Hubbard's pseudoscience - the thought that "this can't be right" would be put aside as being an inappropriate "fixed opinion".

The next lecture to be studied (another Scientology lecture from the Saint Hill Special Briefing Course) is "Studying: Data Assimilation", with the trainee required to demonstrate "Why a subject might seem incomprehensible". This refers to Hubbard's doctrine that "THE ONLY REASON A PERSON GIVES UP A STUDY OR BECOMES CONFUSED OR UNABLE TO LEARN IS BECAUSE HE HAS GONE PAST A WORD THAT WAS NOT UNDERSTOOD" (How to Use a Dictionary, p. 282; capitalization as in the original.) In other words, a concept is not incomprehensible because it is badly worded, or incorrect, or simply nonsensical; it occurs because the terminology is not understood by the student. This sets up the next stage of the trainee's appropriate frame of mind: all disagreement is dismissed as misunderstanding, making Hubbard's pseudoscientific statements infallible. For instance, he claims that radiation is stored in the body and can be flushed out, making the person practically immune even to a nuclear war. If that concept is rejected, as it ought to be, the reason (to the Scientologists) is not that the statement itself is wrong, but merely that the person studying it has failed to understand it.

The third lecture on the course (Scientology again) is "A Summary of Study", requiring the trainee to demonstrate "Why, when you have detached the significance from the action and separated these two things apart, you can have schooling but you can't have education." Hubbard makes the point that theoretical knowledge (the "significance") is distinct from the practical knowledge (the "action" or "doingness") but they should not be separated, as otherwise they become useless on their own. In the example given in the In-Charge Course, the trainee is required to know both the theoretical basis of the New Life Detoxification Program and its practical application.

The next section could best be described as the practical element of the course, as it requires the student to "handle" various situations that might be encountered in supervising the detoxification programme. Some are clearly medical:

9. DEMO:

a. What actions you could take if a person was feeling too warm, feeling faint, or if his body temperature got too high while in the sauna.

b. Why it is advisable NOT to fall asleep in the sauna.

10. DEMO: Why it is important that one drink plenty of liquid while on the program.

27. DEMO: Why a person's liquid intake must be sufficiently large to compensate for the liquid lost through sweating.

33. DEMO: Why a woman should not do the New Life Detoxification Program during pregnancy or while she is breast-feeding a child.

Other items are possible scenarios involving interaction with Narconon's clients:

31. DRILL: Write-up how you would handle each of the following situations as the New Life Detoxification Program I/C:

a. A person with a history of taking drugs heavily over a number of years is beginning the New Life Detox Program. He only wants to do the program for 2½ hours per day.

b. A student on the New Life Detox Program reports that after 3 hours in the sauna he becomes tired and gets no further gain.

c. A student on the program appears to be suffering from a vitamin deficiency.

d. A student originates that he feels he has fully completed the program but is not yet up to taking 5000 mg of niacin.

e. A person on the New Life Detoxification Program originates he is complete. You read his daily report and find he has experienced drug reactions on the program that day.

f. A person turns on a severe reaction during his time in the sauna one day. The next day he states that he does not want to continue the program.

The first block of actions quoted above are virtually all of the items which could be described as "medical"; virtually all of the rest of the course relates to the programme's delivery and administration. Many of the items in this section instruct the trainee in the pseudoscience behind the detoxification programme, notably Hubbard's claims that radiation accumulates in the body; one of the items to be studied is "The New Life Detoxification Program and Atomic War", an adaptation of a Hubbard bulletin which informs Scientologists that detoxification can make them immune to atomic fallout. The trainee is required to demonstrate "What is meant by the cumulative effect of radiation and how ridding a body of radiation lessens the effect of any future exposure to it."

Section D requires the trainee to read and comprehend sections of Hubbard's book Clear Body, Clear Mind, specifically the foreword, introduction and appendix. These selections are significant. The introduction, by Narconon's medical advisor (and Scientologist) Dr. Megan Shields, waxes lyrical about the Purification programme:

No breakthrough was made at all until L. Ron Hubbard attacked this problem head-on ...

The Purification program developed by L. Ron Hubbard is the only procedure of its kind and it is the only detoxification program that actually works. This program is one of the major discoveries of our times. It is also one of the most vital actions that must be done to salvage a civilization that is dying from the devastating effects of drugs and toxins.
[Megan G. Shields M.D., in Hubbard, Clear Body, Clear Mind]

The appendix is a series of anonymised "success stories" praising the programme's effectiveness in "running out" such things as drugs, industrial toxins, Agent Orange and even nuclear fallout. One of the latter comes from a native of Utah exposed to fallout from the Nevada atomic tests:

It should be noted what happened one night in the sauna. After I had been in there for some three hours I turned on a tremendous amount of radiation. There was no redness with the niacin, merely the tremendous heat and pain I felt when I got a good deal of radiation from atomic blasts in 1953. I almost died from radiation burns at that time. I received a great deal of atomic radiation from drinking water that had been filled with fallout. In the sauna I experienced the full return of that moment. I felt the grief and the anger and the pain and the swelling of the face and the blisters and the pain through to the bones. I then went back into the sauna and was able to “blow off” a good deal of this feeling by further sauna exposure.

I feel I have now run out all the drugs and the extreme radiation that I was exposed to in this lifetime. I regained my affinity for people and have a greater love and tolerance for them as a result of the drugs being removed. There have been times on this program when I felt such exhilaration and felt the way I felt when I was a kid . . . My energy level has picked up tremendously.

My friends that I grew up with have not been so fortunate. The atomic tests or the fallout from those tests in Nevada, falling on Utah, have done such a great deal of damage to so many lives. Some of my friends in Utah are dead as a result of those tests. My life would have gone by the boards if I had not had this program. There is a deep sense of gratitude to L. Ron Hubbard for this program. H.J.
[in Hubbard, Clear Body, Clear Mind, p. 85]

This happens to be none other than Heber Jentszch, President of the Church of Scientology International, who can hardly be described as an unbiased assessor of the programme's virtues. The evident aim of this section of the In-Charge Course is to convince the trainee of the programme's effectiveness.

The final third of the course focuses on managing the clients undergoing the detoxification programme, ensuring that the proper paperwork is done and forms are signed. This includes taking care of the "legal rudiments" (sic), such as:

11. *Read the section in the manual entitled "Release of Liability, Indemnity Agreement and Contract."

12. *Read the section in the manual entitled "Medical Declaration for Participation in the Narconon New Life Detoxification Program."

19. c. Ensure the participant has signed the legal waivers used by Narconon for persons doing the program.

d. Ensure the participant receives a physical examination by a qualified medical doctor and written medical okay to do the program.

Scientology is very careful to provide legal protection for itself, and this trait appears to have been passed on to Narconon. Scientology's Purification Rundown likewise requires a prior examination by a qualified medical doctor and legal waivers to be signed. In the Scientology version, the waiver requires its signatory to "AGREE TO ACCEPT ANY AND ALL KNOWN OR UNKNOWN RISKS OF INJURY, LOSS OR DAMAGE" (capitalisation in original), "AGREE NOT TO MAKE CLAIMS AGAINST, SUE, ATTACH THE PROPERTY OF, OR PROSECUTE the Church [and its employees] ... for physical, mental or emotional injury or property damage resulting from the negligence or other acts, howsoever caused, of any Releasee or of any employee, agent or contractor of the Church, its affiliates, or other Releasee, in any way relating to my participation in the Service" and indemnify them "from all actions, claims or demands I, my heirs, distributees, guardians, legal representatives or assigns now have or may hereafter have for physical, mental or emotional injury or property damage resulting in any way from my participation in the Service." It is not clear whether Narconon or Scientology clarify the risks to those undergoing the purification/detoxification programmes. Since Hubbard himself plays down, misunderstands or simply doesn't mention many of the risks, it is doubtful that those managing his programmes take a more rigorous approach. The California State Board of Health team observed in its 1974 report that

We were not provided with and must presume that there is no informed consent document specifying the risks involved in withdrawal from hypnotics/tranquilizer medications such as convulsive episodes during barbiturate withdrawal [even though] the legal contract described above apparently relieves Narconon of any legal responsibilities for any such risk.
["Outline for recovery, House Evaluation" - by Forrest S. Tennant, Jr., M.D., Dr.P.H., Jane Thomas, R.N., Mike Reilly, and Joseph Shannon, M.D., M.P.H. Submitted to Don Z. Miller, Deputy Director, Health Treatment System, State Department of Health, Sacramento, CA, on 31 Oct 1974]


Back to top