Narconon Arrowhead CEO Breaks His Silence | The Fix
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Narconon Arrowhead CEO Breaks His Silence

The director of a Scientology-affiliated rehab, where three have died in the past year, speaks out—to a point—for the first time.


Deadly, or just standard-issue rehab
tragedies? Photo via

By Hunter R. Slaton


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Over the past year, three people have died at a Scientology-affiliated rehab, Narconon Arrowhead, near the town of Canadian, Oklahoma. The treatment facility employs controversial "Purification Rundown" techniques, including high doses of vitamins (including niacin) and intensive sauna sessions. Until now, Narconon leadership has refused to speak to the press. But an Oklahoma TV news station recently landed an exclusive interview with Narconon Arrowhead CEO Gary Smith, who said that the Narconon program helped him break his own addiction (he wouldn't say to what) 36 years ago.

"I've had it personally, I've helped people, I've seen what it does," Smith said. "Yes, it's very serious." He added that nearly three quarters of staff members at Narconon Arrowhead are program alumni—not an uncommon occurrence in the rehab industry. According to Smith, the exercise-and-sauna program begins with a half-hour of light calisthenics, followed by four and a half hours "in a low, dry-heat sauna, with cool-down and hydration breaks." The mother of one of the deceased, Gabriel Graves, said that her son suffered from intense headaches following the sauna sessions, but was denied pain meds, and was unable to see a doctor. Smith claims that Narconon tries to treat its patients "nutritionally" at first, but will allow OTC medications as needed. As for the deaths themselves, Smith evaded comment, telling the news station, "It's a tough job. There's people that die from addiction every day." He added, "Unfortunately, death is part of addiction. It's an ugly part, and it happens in rehab and out of rehab, and nobody wants it to happen." Citing patient confidentiality, Smith declined to comment specifically on the three deaths that have occurred at his facility.

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