by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:
ATLANTA - A worldwide drug treatment program that’s denied its affiliation with the Church of Scientology faces new scrutiny now that a whistleblower has come forward.
Channel 2 Action News has uncovered documents which tie Narconon of Georgia to the controversial church.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer obtained records that show the director of the Georgia program knew staff members were drinking and doing drugs with patients.
Explore our joint investigation into Georgia Narconon:
- Part 1 of Channel 2's Jodie Fleischer's report | Part 2 | Part 4
- Hear WSB Radio's Pete Combs' reports
- Read reporter Christian Boone's story on AJC.com
A whistleblower told Fleischer the program was more focused on its image than fixing problems and the church uses Narconon to make money and recruit vulnerable addicts into Scientology.
Lucas Catton told Flesicher he knows the Narconon drug treatment program better than almost anyone. He went through it as a student, and then rose to be become president of the Flagship Arrowhead facility in Oklahoma.
“Is it what it pretends to be? Absolutely not," said Catton. “Narconon is, essentially it is Scientology."
The Treatment Program
From the start, patients are given mega doses of vitamins, like niacin, Catton said. So much, the state requires they sign a consent form acknowledging health risks.
Addicts spend roughly five hours a day in a sauna, intended to rid their body of drug toxins. They also study communication techniques written by Church of Scientology founder, L. Ron Hubbard, according to Catton.
"He didn't get it, they did weird things, you had to get to different levels." Colleen Desmond told Fleischer.
Desmond is suing Narconon of Georgia after her son Patrick died while enrolled there.
Records show Patrick Desmond got drunk with his housing monitor then used heroin for the first time. Desmond’s attorney, Jeff Harris, questioned Narconon’s medical director, Lisa Robbins, under oath.
“Did you know that you were listed as their (Narconon’s) medical director?” Harris asked in the deposition.
“I don't know,” replied Robbins. “All I know is that I was hired by them to do the physicals on their patients and if they needed any medical treatment.”
In the deposition, Robbins also stated she had never visited the sauna or the Narconon facility.
Success Rate Questioned
Narconon’s executive director, Mary Rieser, touts a 70- to 80-percent success rate.
“There's no truth to say except, we're helping people,” said Rieser.
"It's not real, it's not a real number," Catton said disputing her claim.
Catton said what was real was the concern over Desmond’s death, but not for the reason you would expect.
"It was pretty common knowledge that the Narconon here in Georgia was very disorganized, that there was a higher incidence rate of drug and alcohol abuse within the facility by students," Catton said.
A Link To Scientology
The Desmond’s attorney shared with Channel 2 Action News evidence that links the program to Scientology.
"Within days after Patrick's death, a memo was sent from Narconon of Georgia to the OSA, which is the church of Scientology," Harris said.
“I have arranged for a minister to come ... He is not going to flap PR wise,” Rieser wrote in the memo. Catton said that means “it wouldn’t create a public relations problem.”
"This demonstrates very clearly the connection between them, and it's not just the connection, it is a direct channel," said Catton. “I've never seen anything like this public before now."
Rieser denied the connection.
"I am a Scientologist, that's my church. But they don't have, they don't manage here."
Fleischer confronted Rieser, showing her the letter that was sent to the national church advising them about Desmond’s death within days after died.
“Well I'm not going to speak to why I did that,” Rieser said. “But that's not a governing body for me, and if I, that is my church so I don't know, if I'd been a Baptist I might have told my church."
Fleischer asked Catton why Narconon refuses to admit ties to Scientology.
“Cause people won't come and there's not enough money in it,” Catton said. “So if you try to legitimize it in the public eye as much as possible, then it is easier to be able to get more money, more recruits."
He said the church gives recruits who have gone through Narconon credit for the communication and sauna sessions they’ve already finished. Patrick’s mom says she had no idea
“How could they do that to young people? How could they do that to families?” Desmond said.
Addicts and their families from Narconon told Channel 2 they’ve paid between $15,000 and $30,000 for treatment.
Catton left the Church of Scientology and his job with Narconon more than a year ago. He told Fleischer when he was there, the program brought in about $1 million a week in revenue.