ATLANTA - Channel 2 Action News has already noticed a change to Narconon International’s website since an investigation exposed the organization advertising its Georgia program as a long-term residential facility. Now the wording has been altered and does not indicate which type of facility it is.
Explore our joint investigation into Georgia Narconon:
- Part 1 of Channel 2's Jodie Fleischer's report | Part 2 | Part 3
- Hear WSB Radio's Pete Combs' reports
- Read reporter Christian Boone's story on AJC.com
Georgia's Department of Community Health Commissioner David Cook told Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer a dozen complaints filed during the past decade, and even Narconon advertising itself as a long-term residential facility, wasn't enough proof to take action in the past.
"I think this was a close call," said Cook, "Holding themselves out as a residential treatment center versus actually running one, I think, was an important distinction, legally."
He pointed out state investigators do not have subpoena power, and are often left to rely on facilities being truthful.
"Maybe this is one of the fundamental things that could come out of this case. They don't have a whole lot of teeth, to deal with these drug and alcohol facilities that aren't being candid with them," said attorney Jeff Harris.
Harris represents Colleen and Rick Desmond, who are suing Narconon over their son Patrick's death.
"Across this country, internationally, I would love to see every Narconon shut down," said Colleen Desmond.
Cook said he would consider asking legislators to include drug rehab facilities in last year's expansion of Georgia law toughening regulations on nursing homes.
"I think it's always good to take a look at things, I would not rule that out," said Cook.
"It's an issue that we're going to be looking at. I think there are a lot of facets both within licensing and in terms of other areas like fraud. Licensing doesn't regulate fraud," Cook added.
Health care attorney Brian McEvoy disagrees.
"In my experience, generally, fraud would be grounds for revocation of a license." He added that more investigation is needed.
"It is difficult to understand the reasons the state has taken the actions that it has, or more importantly has not taken any action," McEvoy said.
Narconon of Georgia's executive director, Mary Rieser, said she never lied to the state, and that all of her patients sign documents acknowledging the outpatient treatment.
"Why on Earth am I going to create some sort of scheme? ‘Oh, let me create some kind of plot so I can help people?’ It's ridiculous," Rieser said.
But it is profitable. Colleen Desmond said she spent $30,000 at Narconon, only to have her son die while enrolled there.
"Unbelievably angry. How could this go on? How could the state of Georgia let this go on?" asked Desmond.
She said Rieser told her, and Patrick's drug court administrator, the Georgia program was residential. Rieser says she now asks every client.
"It's been a change I've made since I realized that people lie, that they have a court order that I never saw, and then they lie as though I saw it," said Rieser.
Rieser told Fleischer she's confident Narconon of Georgia will prevail.
"Even when you leave here, I'll walk out there and I will still be helping people," said Rieser. “And I will still have people say if it weren't for Narconon, I would be dead."