Inside Scientology's Rehab Racket - Page 4

By Mark Ebner, Walter Armstrong 03/27/11

Narconon promises desperate addicts that they can sweat out their demons (and gobs of green ooze) by spending hours in sweltering saunas. But is it a real rehab? Or a front trying to lure vulnerable converts to a declining cult?

The Narconon Way: No meds, hours in 150-degree saunas and dangerous
doses of vitamins.

(page 4)

Claims that “certified counselors” are on-site are misleading, according to Love. “They advertise on their websites that they have certified counselors, course supervisors, withdrawal specialists. But that certificate is printed off right upstairs at Narconon—you take a little Scientology course and get it. There was nobody who had any degree from a university that had anything to do with rehabilitation or treatment.”

While ex-employees have revealed that Narconon and Scientology are united by shared leadership, shared finances and their shared devotion to the writings of L. Ron Hubbard, Narconon’s websites make no mention of the fact that Scientologists run the show. Yet even in the ‘70s, when Scientology’s popularity was at its peak, Narconon’s ties to the church were rarely publicized.

The group was initially marketed via public service announcements and free spots on local radio. “Desperate people would call the 800 number provided, and as Scientology began catching negative attention over the years, counselors were instructed to lie and say Narconon was in no way affiliated with the Church,” Patty Pieniadz, a former Narconon executive director, whose condemnation of the rehab is now as fervent as her former ardor, told The Fix.

Pieniadz’s account of Narconon operations is instructive. In 1973, Pieniadz, then a 19-year-old heroin addict, entered a Narconon facility in New London, Conn., for the modest sum of $50 a month. After several months, she successfully ditched her dependence on dope, but in the process replaced one addiction with another. “I finally was able to kick heroin,” she says, “but Scientology became my new obsession.” In short order, Pieniadz was hired as the New London facility’s “chief recruiter.” By age 22, she had become the executive director, tasked with securing government funding by promoting Narconon’s drug-free teachings in public high schools. By all accounts, she was a great success. “I personally brought in over a quarter million dollars,” Pieniadz recalled.

Undisclosed to students or clients was the fact that the success of rehabilitation depended on the client’s indoctrination in Scientology. “It was completely understood by Narconon staff that unless the patient did the entire Scientology Drug Rundown, there was little chance that they would permanently stay off drugs,” Pieniadz said. “The unwritten final step of the Narconon program was to acknowledge you were a Scientologist. Only then were you were considered to be rehabilitated.”

A 1984 internal Narconon document acquired by the Narconon Exposed website proves that this final step was not always unwritten. The document features a flow chart showing each stage of a person’s progression through the program. There is “Detoxification/Withdrawal,” the “Drug Education/Orientation Lecture,” the “Hard T.R.'s (0–9) Course,” the “Purification Program,” the “Objectives,” the “Repair Action,” the “Drug Rundown,” a second “Repair Action,” and “The Way to Happiness Rundown.” Finally, upon exiting Narconon, the purified, repaired and run-down graduate is shown the “route to nearest org for further services if individual so desires.” The “org” is of course a Scientology center, and the “services” are additional Scientology trainings. At Narconon, instruction in the “hard T.R.'s (0–9)” includes T.R. 8, which involves commanding an ashtray to “stand up” and “sit down,” and thanking it for doing so, as loudly as possible. Former Scientologists say that the purpose of the drill is to “beam intention” into the ashtray to make it move. More advanced skills can presumably be acquired in Scientology’s higher learning.

Dr. Steven Kent, a University of Alberta sociologist who specializes in religions and cults, has studied the Narconon conversion process. “If clients become convinced that ‘auditing’ has contributed to their improvement, they may wish to expand their practice of it by enrolling in Scientology courses,” he told The Fix. “They may not realize that their ‘perceptions’ of what caused their recovery is the result of factors other than what they think.”

Converting addicts into Scientologists is essential not only to clients' rehabilitation, but to the Narconon business model’s success. Said Kent: “Narconon is a source of revenue and recruitment for Scientology, not to mention a public relations opportunity to show an alleged solution to the widespread community problem of drug addiction.” According to Kent, Narconon is a legally independent entity that pays Scientology for its use of Scientology-based “technology” via a licensing arrangement with ABLE. Like Burger King or T.G.I.F., Narconon operates like a franchise. Scientologists play prominent roles at many of the individual franchises, although not all are owned by church members. Narconon also funnels money directly to the church in more illicit ways, like paying exorbitant rents for church-owned office space, in violation of the laws governing nonprofits, according to Dr. David Touretzky.

Given the close ties between Scientology and Narconon, it’s no surprise that the drug program’s reputation continues to enjoy endorsements and other support from the church’s famous Hollywood hawkers. Adding to the notoriety earned as a drama queen of fat, Kirstie Alley has served as the Narconon’s official spokesperson since 1990. Alley entered the rehab in 1979 to combat a serious coke addiction; today she credits the program with saving her life. John Travolta, another Scientology stalwart, is also a member of the Narconon advisory board, as is David Miscavige, Scientology’s controversial leader.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
Mark Ebner.jpg

Mark Ebner is an award-winning journalist, a New York Times bestselling author, and a familiar presence in recovery circles. Follow him on Twitter.

walter armstron.jpeg

Walter Armstrong is the Medical Editor at  Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness and the former deputy editor of The Fix. You can find him on Linkedin.