Video: NBC Probes Narconon Deaths

By Maia Szalavitz 08/15/12

Tomorrow night's show will further intensify the pressure on Scientology's rehab organization.

The success claims are controversial—as are
the deaths.
Photo via

The heat is on Scientology’s Narconon rehabs, as NBC’s Rock Center investigates tomorrow the deaths of three patients at its Oklahoma facility, which The Fix covered recently. The sauna-and-vitamins program, based on Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s “purification rundown,” hasn't been proven as an effective treatment for addiction. Yet this doesn't prevent it and other faith-based facilities from advertising and operating—and even getting accredited and listed on government treatment directories. Narconon’s leadership refused to be interviewed by NBC on camera, but issued a statement saying, “Three out of four Narconon graduates are able to live stable, drug-free lives.”

Citing success rates only for graduates is a classic technique used by rehabs of many stripes to inflate their outcome measures. Most people who start rehab don’t complete it; those who do tend to be the most highly motivated. Genuine evaluations of treatment include dropouts—and never achieve 75% lifelong abstinence rates. Of course, this particular statement is even more vague: 100% of Narconon graduates are likely “able” to live drug-free lives so long as they survive the treatment. That doesn’t mean they actually do. The program airs at 10 pm Eastern, and includes interviews with the families of those who lost their lives.

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Maia Szalavitz is an author and journalist working at the intersection of brain, culture and behavior.  She has reported for Time magazine online, and is the co-author, with Bruce Perry, of Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential—and Endangered, and author of Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids. You can find her on Linkedin and  Twitter.