Narcotics Anonymous, The NAWS (Narcotics Anonymous World Services) Corporation and the Future of a Fellowship

By rebelsmed 05/01/18

Narcotics Anonymous is a worldwide Fellowship of addicts who meet regularly to help each other stay clean. Today, there are over 60,000 regular weekly meetings around the world; It has grown from a single group of addicts in California in 1953. Groups are the foundation of the Fellowship and ultimately make the decisions that affect the Fellowship. Groups in a town or several towns will come together and form a service structure called an ‘Area’ with the goal of providing services to fulfill the needs of the local Fellowship. Many of the Areas will come together and form a service body known as a ‘Region’, often defined by the geographical boundaries of a state or province (for instance, the Ohio Region of NA). Each service structure from the Group, the Area, and the Region will elect a delegate to represent them at the next level of service. A Group Service Representative goes to Area, a Regional Committee Member goes to Region from Area, and a Region Delegate from Region goes to the World Service Conference (WSC). Groups represent the pinnacle of the service structure, and all the other services are below the groups; they are then in place to support those groups. This is the opposite from the typical business model, where the top position is the president. On a chart, the NA structure looks like an inverted triangle.

From April 29th to May 5th 2018, many of the elected Regional Delegates from all over the world are invited to meet for a World Service Conference in Woodland Hills, California. The WSC convenes every 2 years; the primary reason is to discuss and vote on the motions compiled from the Groups into the Conference Agenda Report that will influence the direction of the World Board, who govern the Narcotics Anonymous World Service Inc California - registered as a non-profit organization. Many of the participants at this WSC are looking for solutions to address 3 key issues that are currently affecting the worldwide Fellowship.

The first concern raised by many of the Regional Delegates for NA is the status of the ‘Fellowship Intellectual Property Trust’ (or FIPT) - a document outlining the copywrite usage rules for NA literature and logos. The second point of contention is a request by the South Florida Region to inspect the financial records of NAWS, where it appears as if NAWS is stalling and putting up road blocks to requested transparency. Some regions have come out in support of this motion, and there are discussions at all levels of service about withholding funds from NAWS until the inspection is completed. And the third issue is that many Regional Delegates express concerns about the apathy of their membership and a lack of support for the service structures.

1. Fellowship Intellectual Property Trust
In the early 1990’s, an addict, known by many as ‘Grateful Dave’, was successful in a court challenge against NAWS regarding the production of literature. Editing changes to the production of the primary book used in NA, known as the ‘Basic Text’, were not approved by the Fellowship. A rift formed and some of the Fellowship continued supporting NAWS, while others agreed with Grateful Dave. A faction of the fellowship no longer supports NAWS and some groups produce alternative literature that is not recognized by NAWS. NAWS addressed the issues by introducing the Fellowship Intellectual Property Trust, which assigns control of Narcotics Anonymous logos and literature exclusive to NA.

The Fellowship continues to produce literature that they feel aids their ability to carry the message regardless of NAWS and their concerns. An example within the Ireland Region, with an NAWS unapproved book on Parenting. Narcotics Anonymous ‘Basic Text (6th Edition)’ is the current primary text book within the Fellowship (which means it is has been approved by all the participating groups who voted on the content in that 6th edition of the Basic Text), however, it is freely available online against NAWS policy. Of greater concern is a version produced by some members or groups, that published NA literature outside of NAWS known as the ‘Baby Blue’ – an alternative to Version 3 of the Basic Text. (which was or was not Fellowship approved, depending on who you ask.)
Since NAWS is primarily funded by literature sales, they have a vested interest in gaining control of the copywrite and production of all NA literature. There have been several revisions to the FIPT, and new changes continue to be proposed which are in turn, ignored by the factions who are growing in their contempt for NAWS.

2. Revenues, Executive Wages and Travel
Narcotics Anonymous World Service Inc. is largely funded off the profits of literature sales, with member contributions only at about 25% of operating revenues. A growing concern is the cost of wages and travel for the executives of the NAWS Inc. corporation, World Board members, and various members of the Human Resource Panel who facilitate activities around the world for the World Board. NAWS Inc. reports revenue of (2015 Corporate Tax filing) $7,966,060, and the two top paid executives are Anthony Edmondson (Executive Director) at $210,947 (plus $30,515 in additional compensation), and Rebecca Meyer (Assistant Executive Director) at $161,206 (plus $20,334 in additional compensation). Total expenses for conferences, conventions, and meetings are $979,642.

These numbers are significant when compared to Alcoholics Anonymous (2016 Corporate Tax Filings). AA consists of 3 corporations; Alcoholics Anonymous Grapevine Inc. (regular newsletter), General Service Board of Alcoholics Anonymous Inc., and Alcoholics Anonymous World Services Inc. They have a combined revenue of $24,251,083, run by Gregory Tobin (President of both General Service Board, and World Services Inc.) at $219,830 (plus $68,606), and Ami Brophy (President of the Grapevine) at $145,174 (plus $33,574 in additional) and total expenses for conferences, conventions, and meetings at $1,130,658. AA is about 80% funded from member contributions at the world level.

What’s surprising is that overall, the salaries for both organizations are about 44% of general revenue, however, the two top executives for Narcotics Anonymous take 5.0% of the gross revenue compared to Alcoholics Anonymous with the two top executives taking 1.9%. Similar disparages exist for the expenses labeled ‘conferences, conventions, and meeting costs’ at 12% (NA) and 4.6% (AA) of revenue, respectively.

3. Unity and Service
Life experience and our collective conscience teach us that unity is integral, and humans are social creatures. During tragic events we come together for brief moments to support the affected, regardless of our personal values and beliefs. Unity is also fragile and requires a lot of sacrifices to maintain, but the joy of being a part of is compensation for those who wish a spiritual existence. The struggles with unity in the service structures of Narcotics Anonymous are best addressed by reviewing their own literature for a solution:

(Narcotics Anonymous, Basic Text, page 64, 6th Edition, published 2008):
"…However, many will become the role models for the newcomers. The self‐seekers soon find that they are on the outside, causing dissension and eventually disaster for themselves. Many of them change; they learn that we can only be governed by a loving God as expressed in our group conscience."

What is a ‘group conscience’? The best description comes from Narcotics Anonymous, The Group booklet, page 11, Copyright © 1997:

" 'Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps,' our Twelfth Step says, 'we tried... to practice these principles in all our affairs.' When we collectively apply the insight received from that spiritual awakening to our group’s problems, we call that group conscience. Common sense, open minds, calm discussion, accurate information, mutual respect, and healthy personal recovery enables a group to deal effectively with almost anything that comes its way.”

Addiction goes beyond the abuse of drugs. In Narcotics Anonymous, the Steps specifically do not mention drugs for this reason. Self-seeking behaviors can be lifestyle, travel, and any obsession that revolves around our own selfish desires. A critical aspect of the NA program is that addicts struggle every day with their addictive personalities, and each needs to be vigilant. As well intentioned as the motives of those involved in service might be, clearly a lack of unity can only point to issues with the application of spiritual principles- the principles that govern our Twelve Steps, Twelve Traditions, and 12 Concepts. Groups are the basis of recovery in Narcotics Anonymous, and success is proven in the continued growth experienced by the Fellowship worldwide. The lawsuit that Grateful Dave launched raised the idea that if only a small number of groups out of all the groups approve a motion, is it truly reflective of the Fellowship? Within all the service committees there must be a quorum in order to pass motions; Shouldn’t it be the same at the world level? In fact, due to the size of the NA Fellowship, how many of the groups are making decisions at the world level? Allowing a very small percentage of groups to represent the whole has contributed to the splintering of the NA Fellowship and has caused distention among the groups, as well as pushing groups and individuals to move away from the NA service structures. Splinters can become infected and grow, affecting the surrounding tissues. Without proper consultation with a majority of the groups, the Fellowship will crumble, and the individual will die. Narcotics Anonymous’ primary purpose is to carry the message to the still suffering addict- ‘that an addict, any addict, can stop using drugs, lose the desire to use, and find a new way to live’. We have to do this together. With Unity, proper consultation, and transparency, the Fellowship can start tomorrow by supporting the service structures financially and remembering that the service bodies that serve the fellowship must take responsibility to be inclusive, accountable, and embrace diversity.

Join the conversation, become a Fix blogger. Share your experience, strength, and hope, or sound off on the issues affecting the addiction/recovery community. Create your account and start writing: