What was Narcotics Anonymous? (Part 1)

By rebelsmed 02/11/19
Narcotics Anonymous, addiction, recovery

Narcotics Anonymous, from their literature states; (Basic Text, Drafted and distributed in February 1981 and approved in 1982, page 19) “N.A. is a non-profit fellowship or society of men and women for whom drugs had become a major problem. We are recovered addicts who meet regularly to help each other stay clean.” From humble beginnings in 1953, a Fellowship of addicts emerged that were having a significant impact on those who suffered from the disease of addiction.  Many who had achieved success in their struggles with addiction embraced the idea that a solution had been found. The application of spiritual principles involved in ‘helping each other stay clean’ resulted in a desire to create literature so that others could experience the joys of living a new way of life, free from active addiction.  Many groups participated in the first World Service Conference (WSC) in 1976. They sought to establish a service structure and continue to hold conferences to this day. Clearly the 12 traditions apply to the groups and only the groups. The word ‘group’ is used throughout the traditions.  What would a service structure look like?

Members work the 12-steps of NA into their lives and applied the 12-traditions of NA in their groups. It is the basis of their recovery. (Basic Text, “Who is an addict”, page 18, with emphasis added)

Due to our Fifth Tradition [Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry the message to the addict who still suffers]. and Twelfth Step [Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs], our primary purpose in life is to stay clean by carrying the message to the addict who still suffers.

The number Narcotics Anonymous Groups were growing rapidly in the late 70’s and early 80’s. They sought to organize and produce literature. The most significant achievement was the creation of the Basic Text which was released as an approval draft in February 1981 and approved for publishing by the groups in 1982. There were concerns about the content from some members who had been empowered to service the needs of a growing Fellowship. The World Service Office (WSO) and Board of Trustees (which became Narcotics Anonymous World Service Inc, or NAWS for short in 1998) made changes that dramatically affected the content of the Basic Text that was approved the groups. The result was dramatic as an angry fellowship realized what had been done. One change was regarding Tradition 4 and the relationship between the groups and the service structures that were created by the groups. Sue E, Chairman of the board issued a letter to the Fellowship dated March 1, 1983 that attempted to explain the reason for the changes (which was widely available at the time, and still in the possession of members).  The underline was added for emphasis;

In tradition four the book states that “SERVICE COMMITTEES ARE NOT NA” and later in the same paragraph states “ALL ELSE IS NOT NA" clearly indicating that they are not a part Narcotics Anonymous. The book further states "whether to utilize these services is up to the group.” This would allow any group to do whatever the group chose to do and continue to call themselves an NA Group, leaving the fellowship no recourse but to allow them to do so….We believe it was not the intention of those members of the Literature Committee who selflessly devoted 100's of hours and $1,000's of dollars to provide the fellowship with our book, nor those members of the Board of Trustees who personally worked on and reviewed the material, nor the fellowship who approved the book, to place the Service Structure outside the Traditions or the dictates of the fellowship.

One of the committees formed early on was a Literature committee. Both the Chair of the committee (Page C.) and the entire committee that existed in 1983 issued letters revoking the writes of the WSO (NAWS) to publish the book in response to the changes. (Committee letter available for viewing here)

When we learned that they were going to contract another printer to print Our Book, with the changes, without consulting the Fellowship, we were appauled [appalled]. Our Book is the epitome of Group Conscience. We spent an approximate 360,000 manhours and some $75,000.00 writing Our Book.

What happened after was political maneuverings and power struggles as various factions sought to control the production and distribution of literature. The rift created exists today and curtails the efforts of the groups to fulfill their primary purpose to carry the message to the still suffering addict. As literature prices grow, more groups are looking to alternative service structures and the NAWS corporation has taken the literature hostage with the creation of the FIPT (Fellowship Intellectual Property Trust) which essentially seeks to guarantee that only NAWS Inc. can legally produce literature for sale to the Fellowship.

Tradition 8 and 9 state;(Basic Text, any version, first published in 1982);

8. Narcotics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.

9. NA, as such, ought never be organized, but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.

It’s the task of groups to create an atmosphere of recovery so that any addict can recover. Members find that atmosphere is best when we see each other as equals and is the reason we remain nonprofessional. Neither of these is true in service structures.  Service bodies are created to serve the groups, and not the newcomers and therefor are not Narcotics Anonymous. Service bodies would benefit from professionals, and often we see members who are professionals like lawyers and accountants contribute greatly to the fellowship when they act as trusted servants to the Fellowship. In 2010, The Department of Justice for the state of California issued a 2nd Delinquency letter to Narcotics Anonymous World Services Inc (NAWS) for failing to file the appropriate paperwork for the years 2003, 2005 and 2008 to maintain their charity status. Clearly, they would benefit from both professionalism and organization.  They are compliant now, but the loss of charity status, and the special workers employed by NAWS Inc placed the copywrites in jeopardy.  The traditions should only apply to groups and not the service structures and this mistake emphasizes why service structures are outside the Fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous.

6. An NA group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the NA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, or prestige divert us from our primary purpose.

10. Narcotics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the NA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.

Service structures can fail and it will not damage the reputation of Narcotics Anonymous if they were outside the Fellowship. The service structures should be fully engaged in serving and being accountable to the groups who created them. The idea makes even more sense to see our service structures as outside issues from a financial prospective. Groups can contribute to the service structures in the same way they pay rent or buy coffee but because we created those structures, they are fully accountable to the groups. 

Tradition 7 (Basic Text, all versions) “Every NA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.” This tradition only makes sense for groups. NAWS Inc. is willing to sell literature at a profit to any organization or individual and has become dependent on the profits of literature sales.  The spiritual principles that underly this tradition allowed the World Literature Committee to raise the $75,000 needed to create the Basic Text from members, groups and service bodies. The Service structures (WSO/NAWS) who relied on profits at the time (and still to this day) took control of the production and in so doing violated the spirit of freedom and generosity in which Narcotics Anonymous operates.  Part 2 of the follow up article will discuss Tradition 9 changes. Those original addicts who worked for hundreds of thousands of manhours and raised tens of thousands of dollars are due the respect they deserve in creating the Basic Text.

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