Self-Supporting Through Our Own Contributions; How NAWS Lost Its Way

By rebelsmed 10/19/18
Narcotics Anonymous, addiction, recovery

Since its inception in 1953, Narcotics Anonymous has helped millions of addicts to stop using drugs, lose the desire to use, and find a new way to live.  In the 1970’s and early 80’s there was a surge as Groups formed and spread rapidly across the United States, Canada, and abroad.  These early Groups worked to create service structures and policies as well as develop literature that would improve the ability to carry a message to the still suffering addict.  Jimmy K was one of the pioneers of the NA movement and helped establish an early World Service Office (WSO) that assisted new Groups with starter kits and much of the early literature.  Jimmy K is often referred to as the ‘Father of NA’ and thought of in much the same way that Bill W was to the Alcoholics Anonymous movement. Jimmy setup operations in his home and processed hundreds of literature orders and Group starter kits to a rapidly growing Fellowship. The WSO incorporated and became a business.  There were others who emerged as natural leaders around the globe as the Fellowship grew and expanded. With the increased size and complexity came new problems and solutions were sought.  The Fellowship of NA started to make decisions about what services (to the Fellowship) would look like, what was working for some Groups, and discovered why some Groups failed. A board of trustees was established from members who had shown a passion, clean time and leadership qualities to help provide direction and guidance to this new Fellowship.

More and more Groups formed and often, when warranted, an Area committee (made up of Groups from a geographical location) came together with a single representative from each of the local Groups so that they could produce meeting lists and establish local help line services via telephone. Some Areas formed regional committees (comprised of many Areas in that region) that sent a representative to a ‘World Service Conference’ that was eventually formed to help provide direction to the trustees, board members of the WSO, and the WSO staff members themselves. Often the Regions were labeled by the geographical location they represented, e.g. the Florida Region. By 1979 there were 9 Regions (representing hundreds of Groups) and by 1981 there were 19 Regions (representing almost 3,000 Groups) recognized at the WSC.  These figures and the facts that follow were extracted from Bob Stone’s book, My Years with Narcotics Anonymous (published in 1997), a former Executive Director of the WSO.

Several literature conferences, starting in 1979, 1980 and 1981 respectively, were formed and tasked with creating a single text book written by addicts for addicts, resembling the Alcoholics Anonymous ‘Big Book’.  Large Groups of addicts across the United States worked long hours compiling existing literature and writing new passages. This effort resulted in what would become the most significant vehicle for the message of Narcotics Anonymous and became known as The Basic Text’. The Basic Text included contributions of many of the long-term members (Jimmy K, Bo S, Page C, Greg P, and many more) who had provided leadership and direction to the Fellowship. The book would become the centerpiece and focal point for the Fellowship, unifying addicts who desperately desired to recover from addiction.  The initial project took over two years to compile and the Fellowship continued to grow and solidify.  An interesting point to note is that while the WSO was struggling financially, the Literature conferences received a significant amount of financial support from Regions, Areas, and Groups as well as individuals.

As The Basic Text emerged in the mid 1980’s, Bob Stone, who was not an addict, was hired to run the WSO and replaced Jimmy K. Bob was instrumental in establishing an efficient business office at a very critical time.  Despite the overwhelming support of the Fellowship in creating the book, a small group of individuals, many of them who were trustees, disagreed with some of the language, and more importantly, the ideas of the literature committee. In his book, My Years with Narcotics Anonymous, page 149, the Executive Director of the WSO at the time, Bob Stone indicated that with his discussions with the trustees, “The majority [of the board] felt that the modified language was consistent with NA philosophy, while the original language was not.” The board of trustees, believing they were putting the Fellowship first, sought to control publication, distribution, and content of the literature.

What was questioned was the idea that the service structures created were not Narcotics Anonymous, but simply service bodies who were in service to the Groups.  The board of trustees modified the book and made changes without direction or permission from the members of N.A..  A critical juncture was crossed that changed the service structures forever. Suddenly service bodies were no longer ‘outside enterprises’. There are numerous examples in Bob Stone’s book where the service structures began to create literature independent of the Fellowship, and trusted servants started to travel to promote the WSO, the policies that were created, and the literature that they sold all in the name of unity.

The WSO was funded almost entirely from profits of literature sales (80% or more) in those early years and that continues today.



Literature Sales and Costs


Gross Sales

Cost of Goods

Profit Margin


















In 1991, sales had risen to $3,478,252 but started to level off by 1995.  Since then, sales of the basic text have remained roughly the same averaging about 300,000 copies per year. Sales revenue showed an increase mostly due to margins reaching  400%, while publishing costs haves only risen approximately 38%, allowing the WSO (renamed Narcotics Anonymous World Services or NAWS in 1998) board, trustees, and staff to spend an enormous amount on salaries (estimated at 3 million) and travel (estimated at 1.4 million). Pages of the NAWS Annual Reports are dedicated to detailed accounting of Fellowship support that only accounts for 10-15% of revenue, but little detailed information is available on literature sales.

Some members rebelled against this growing corporate environment. Bob Stone named this renegade faction of the Fellowship ‘The Standing Minority’ and felt that … “In fact, the ‘standing minority’ was opposed to nearly everything the office supported or did.” (p. 185). Clearly there were hostilities between individuals and cliques within the Fellowship. During this time members who supported the original literature were vocal and continue to be vocal today and are often labeled as ‘Purists’. They supported the idea that service bodies at all levels are outside enterprises, who function as trusted servants and question what they believed were Tradition violations. Many of the minority left in disgust and operated independent of these service structures.

Today, there are approximately 35,000 Narcotics Anonymous Groups worldwide, hosting approximately 67,000 meetings in 139 countries (see footnote). Almost 2/3 of the Groups worldwide are represented by about 1/3 of the Regions at the WSC, and those Regions are largely self-supporting through donations from Areas and Groups with some funding from convention profits. There is a believe this is the essence of Tradition 7 (We are self-supporting through our own contributions). None of them rely on literature profits. This standing minority of Regions continues to function and grow in support from the Fellowship.  The WSO/NAWS, believe they have control of the copywrite on literature produced for the Fellowship and actively push this agenda at every WSC.

The NAWS Corporation, the Regions, and Areas that rely on literature profits for support instead of using the 7th Tradition from Groups and other forms of revenue generation will eventually fail without support of the Groups. In British Columbia, the Regional Committee has sold approximately 1.5 million in literature with profits of approximately 300,000 over the last 10 years.  This literature, which costs less than 300,000 to print, raised 1.2 million for NAWS. The BC Region also received another 300,000 in support from Groups and Area Committees and are roughly 50% self-supporting. Over a quarter of this $600,000 retained by the Regional Committee has been used for travel costs, mimicking the waste seen at NAWS. Despite the funds, and the worst overdose epidemic in British Columbia’s history, the Fellowship has declined in the number of Groups and meetings during the same 10-year period as has the support both financially in literature sales and in donations. Today, there are 246 Groups in BC, while in 2004 the number of Groups was 278. This trend of decline is being replicated by other Regions who appear to fail to seek the support of Groups and Areas by being transparent.

In the United States, the Fellowship is under incredible pressure from government agencies and addiction services to shape Narcotics Anonymous into a self-help program, which was never the intention. Our primary purpose has always been to carry a message, and helping others, not ourselves. An increasing amount of literature developed by NAWS diverges from the original ideas that fueled the growth of NA. Some recovery houses will require clients to do the first 5 steps which creates self-seeking behaviors with the focus on self-help.   Courts now require people attend 12-step meetings and present attendance cards, regardless of their desire to get clean, filling the rooms with apathetic and uninterested parties for NA.  NAWS, and the Regions that support it appear to have become addicted to a lifestyle of travel, conventions, as well as power and control over the Fellowship. Those Regions, while strong in votes at the WSC, are in decline. They lack the unity required to move ahead and grow.

While representing my Area as a Regional Committee Member years ago, a friend remarked “I hated the regional service body until I realized it was a cheap place to send members with huge control issues. Get’s them out of the rooms [meetings] where real recovery happens.”  That comment has stuck with me over the years and makes more and more sense as I try to discover what is happening with the program that saved my life.

Overseas the Fellowship is thriving and growing at an enormous rate. Alternative sources of literature (mostly online sources that can be printed for marginal costs) are abundant as new Groups form and members who are committed to the true purpose of the Fellowship work tirelessly to promote NA as a way of life, both in efforts and personal cost at the group level. NAWS continues to report on this growth and takes credit for this, despite the growing evidence to the contrary. 


Financial sources not included in Bob Stone’s book come from various annual reports and regional summaries available online at


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