The benevolent dictatorship of NAWS

By rebelsmed 05/03/19
Narcotics Anonymous, addiction, recovery

Narcotics Anonymous grew from the ashes of many failed attempts to find a solution to those who suffered from drug addictions. The first seeds were planted for some members who had experienced relief in Alcoholics Anonymous but most continued to perish.  Early NA members adapted the 12 steps and 12 traditions from AA to suit the needs of addicts seeking recovery and started this new Fellowship in 1953.  By 1980 after 27 years, there were 1,000 groups, mostly in the United States and many members who believed they had found a solution. Those experiences were gathered in the publication of the Basic Text in the early 80’s which became the primary book of Narcotics Anonymous. By 1987 there were 7,000 groups and an expanding service structure. There was tremendous power struggles and turbulence in a rapidly expanding fellowship. Nowhere was that more evident than with the handling of the literature.  the Fellowship approved first edition of the Basic Text was printed in 1983. There were numerous revisions as a result of power struggles and this resulted in a poorly received, heavily edited 4th edition in 1987. Narcotics Anonymous had a rift within the fellowship as a result and that would grow to become a chasm. The majority of those in control of the World Service Office had disagreed with the direction the groups wanted to go with regards to the service structures. Those early groups wanted the service structures to operate as outside enterprises from the Fellowship and groups should not be governed in any way.  Some addicts believed it was important to maintain the autonomy of the groups who were responsible for carrying the message of NA. Others saw the service structures as an extension of the Fellowship they were serving and believed that groups would require governance in order to maintain the purity of the message. When the 5th edition of the Basic Text was finally produced in 1988 it ushered in an era of stability as those who had supported governance took control.  Early profits allowed the WSO (which would evolve into the Narcotics Anonymous World Service corporation (NAWS) in the 1990’s) to function and grow. Some of those profits were coming from sales of literature to outside organizations like Hazelden.  Many members were happy with the results and were excited to move forward with this new entity. There were also those who held onto the past and expressed concerns about this new corporate image. The results are visible in the worldwide Fellowship that exists today. International efforts of individual members and groups continue to grow the fellowship, but North American growth has stagnated.  A significant portion of those who attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings in North America today fail to understand the nature of the program because of misinformation.

Narcotics Anonymous is estimated to have at least 30,000 groups worldwide today that hold over 60,000 support meetings regularly (daily, weekly or other).  The existing service structure of Narcotics Anonymous has each group assigning a group service representative or GSR.  GSR’s often choose to come together to form an Area Service Committee (ASC) that assists those groups by providing services like meeting list distribution and help lines.  ASC’s often elect a representative to attend a Regional Service Body, and each of the Regions can send a representative to a World Service Conference (WSC).  The WSC was responsible for directing the actions of the World Service Office (WSO/NAWS). It is unclear how much support NAWS or the WSC has today from members and groups.  Of the approximately 120 regions that attend the WSC, only 40 claims to be 80% (or more) supported financially by the groups they serve but those regions account for half the groups in the world, and 60% of the meetings. This strong minority has little influence over the majority which will skew results of decisions.  NAWS itself have been promoting Consensus Based Decision Making (CBDM) as a mechanism for making decisions. CBDM has a major flaw in what experts call ‘group think’ where dissension is lost as members always seek solutions. Service bodies only reflect the will of those who participate when CBDM is utilized. Groups have always sought direction by forming a conscience at the local level which is lost in CBDM. The original Basic Text written and approved by the groups in 1983 referred to service bodies as outside issues because those bodies could not create a group conscience and make decisions. The accountability to groups has been lost and members abdicate their responsibilities away to service structures.

In the 1980’s the demands from the growing fellowship created enormous opportunity for literature sales and governance.  Certain members who remain true to NAWS have become highlighted speakers at events and actively promote NAWS. The WSO/NAWS who were reliant on literature sales to this expanding fellowship fueled the production of new literature.  One annual report produced by the WSO/NAWS in the early 1990’s credits two major writing projects, the ‘Just For Today’, and ‘It Works, How and Why’ for saving the corporation financially.  Both publications were never approved by groups and substantially written and approved by professionals and a select group of special workers. Another professional written publication was the 12 Concepts of Service. NAWS introduced the 12 Concepts of Service to help govern the efforts of the service bodies. Today, the Guide to World Services implicitly states that the 12 Concepts can only be modified by a tally vote of all the known groups in the world even though the groups never adopted the 12 Concepts. Clearly this is an act of governance which groups wanted to avoid in the original literature. The WSO/NAWS also created the Fellowship Intellectual Property Trust (FIPT) in 1991 to secure control of the copywrites on all current and future literature.  Many believe this prompted the publication of the 6th edition of the Basic Text.

Growth is another interesting source of misinformation. Taking figures from WSO/NAWS reports, we find that in 1986 we showed a total of 8380 meetings with all but 452 located in North America. In 1995, the total number of meetings registered with WSO/NAWS had climbed to about 18,500 in North America, and another 3,000 internationally.  The number of meetings in North America has remained unchanged since then but it is difficult to get accurate numbers as some groups and areas no longer participate in North American regional and world services.  Growth internationally has been nothing short of phenomenal and entirely developed by locals. No where is this more evident than in Iran.  NAWS became aware of the Iranian fellowship in early 2000. NAWS representatives travelled to Iran in 2003 and found almost 4,000 groups with 18,000 meetings. Iran had translated literature, setup production and distribution without any direction from NAWS. NAWS touts the success story of Iran for Narcotics Anonymous but the irrelevance of NAWS in that success is not advertised. This story is repeated in many geographical areas of the world where local efforts to grow the fellowship and translate literature are often curtailed at some point by NAWS demands to control the intellectual property rights, the profits of sales and governance of the corporate image. By insisting that the service structures are a part of NA and not an outside enterprise, NAWS can include itself in the successes of a Fellowship that they had no part in creating. This promotes the NAWS corporate image but does little to promote unity and fellowship.

Control of the copywrites has been a primary concern for NAWS for decades now.  With so much controversy over the literature during the 1980’s and early 90’s, many individuals, groups and areas ignored NAWS and concerned themselves with local matters and started producing literature independently, including a Basic Text.  Big Lou and Grateful Dave were two well-known trusted servants who were assigned by service structures to assist with printing and distributing a version of the Basic Text that became known as the ‘baby blue’.  Baby blues are still printed and distributed all over the world. NAWS believed the literature was illegal and tried to put a stop to it by suing Dave. Dave won his case but was not able to enforce the settlement with NAWS before he passed away.  NAWS failed to follow thru on the agreement reached with Dave in court. The main speaker at a world convention expressed gratitude that members had vandalized Big Lou’s car, he hurled insults at Lou from the podium, and falsely accused him of profiting from sales of the Baby Blue.  Lou relapsed and died of an overdose shortly afterwards because Narcotics Anonymous was no longer a safe place for him to attend. These behaviors of misleading and targeting members who are outspoken against NAWS continue to this day. The Lower Desert Area in Palm Desert California created a video explaining the new Service System (called the SSP) proposed by NAWS. The system was designed by a professional firm and was intended to replace the existing service structure. By many accounts the area committee did an excellent job explaining the new system. Some NA members expressed concerns after viewing the video that the new system was overly complicated and violated the 12 traditions. NAWS heard of those concerns and responded by discrediting the individual who voiced the video. The chairman of the World Board issued a response that mislead the fellowship about the origins of the project by indicating it was a solo effort and not a service body’s creation.  

In researching this article, I discovered that the California Registration of Charities requires that tax forms be filed regularly. You can extend the deadline by only a few months. the year end of the NAWS corporation is June 30th so the latest the tax forms can be filed is May 15th of the following year with the state of California. The 2003, 2005 and 2008 tax returns for NAWS were not filed in a timely manner. On Sept 24th, 2009 a delinquency letter was issued that was ignored. A 2nd delinquency letter was issued in June of 2010. The correct paperwork was finally filed at the end of June of 2010. I contacted NAWS who insisted that an extension was granted but the Department of Justice for California indicated that an extension was neither requested nor granted. Failing to file the paperwork correctly jeopardizes an organization’s charitable status and could have resulted in serious consequences such as a loss of charitable status for a corporation that controls the copywrites to the literature.

More than 80% of NAWS revenue continues to come from sales of literature. The bulk of the profits come from North America where prices have risen dramatically. Information Pamphlets (IP’s), Basic Texts and a small book originally created in the 1960’s called the Little White book are examples of Literature sold by NAWS;


Sales have been relatively flat for 30 years despite the Fellowship doubling in size. NAWS reliance on literature profits has caused a dramatic increase in markups as the years have gone by and a stagnant North American Fellowship bears the burden as wages, staffing and travel has increased. Today, there are far more trips both domestically and internationally but travel costs are now buried in other headings like ‘Fellowship Development’, ‘Conferences’ and ‘Workshops’ so the true total is likely over a million dollars but only 26,957 is reported on tax forms and annual reports.  The increased staffing and travel allow NAWS, special workers and world board members to promote the brand that they took control of when they secured the intellectual property rights. There is little support financial from the international community of Narcotics Anonymous in sales or donations. Travel costs are largely concerned with maintaining and selling the brand at fellowship events and to the literature buying community.  The South Florida Region recently requested an audit of NAWS and was granted a limited view of the books. The misinformation, the lack of accountability and lack of transparency will continue to affect NAWS. More and more, the groups that make up Narcotics Anonymous have turned away to alternative service structures or operate independently. Rumors persist that NAWS will seek to close that audit loophole and tighten control of the FIPT at the next WSC while never addressing the declining unity in North America.

Narcotics Anonymous formed from a desire by early members to help others who struggled with drug addictions. The spiritual nature of the program relies on the generosity of members who attend regularly. The program says the core of the disease of addiction is self-obsession so the solution must be in altruism. The ‘weak majority’ of regions often complain of a lack of support from the Fellowship in regional summaries produced for the WSC.  The Fellowship who understand and are the source of the strength of the program are growing increasingly disillusioned and misinformed. This will continue to weaken the North American fellowship and forces NAWS to seek profits elsewhere by expanding the brand internationally. Literature profits will continue to drive the growth of NAWS, where as the Fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous will grow based on those members who work to create unity, regardless of personal interests.



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