Scientology's Narconon Under Fire From Within

By McCarton Ackerman 04/05/13

A former Narconon exec accuses it of preying on the vulnerable and offering non-existent treatment.

A dangerous scam? Photo via

The Scientology-affiliated rehab Narconon continues to come under fire. Its flagship location in Oklahoma has had seven patient deaths since 2005, three of them between November 2011 and July 2012. An exposé last August on NBC show Rock Center with Brian Williams investigated the three most recent deaths; tonight the same show features the former president of the facility and a former executive at a Narconon facility in Michigan accusing Narconon organizations across the country of engaging in non-existent treatment and deceitful marketing techniques. "Narconon preys on vulnerable people. That's part of the sales techniques," says Lucas Catton, who stepped down as President of Narconon's Arrowhead facility in Oklahoma in 2004.

Catton and his former colleague Eric Tonorio accuse Narconon of hiring recent college graduates to be counselors, without any formal drug treatment training or instruction on how to treat patients addicted to drugs and alcohol. The rehabs reportedly spends thousands of dollars on "Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor" certificates for its staff from an organization called the Pita Group, Inc., which was created by Kent McGregor, a contractor for Narconon’s Arrowhead facility. Both Tenorio and Catton now describe Narconon's methods of treatment—such as spending five hours per day in a sauna for 30 straight days—as "pseudo-science." Both men arrived at Narconon as patients in the mid-'90s and eventually became Scientologists, at one point crediting the program with helping them get sober.

Narconon Arrowhead CEO Gary Smith has sent an email to NBC News that denied Tenorio and Catton's accusations, claiming that only a small percentage of Narconon patients join Scientology and that only 25% of staff are Scientologists. He also provided a 2011 statement from Catton that thanked the facility for saving his life, while the Church of Scientology released video statements made by Tenorio in 2008 and Catton in 2009 thanking Narconon for turning their lives around. Despite that, Catton maintains, "Everything [at Narconon] was dedicated toward the purpose of advancing Scientology's aims."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.