State of Oklahoma
House of Representatives
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 24, 2012
Rep. Brian Renegar
State Capitol Building Rm. 504
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73105
Contact: Valorie Owens
Renegar to Revisit Rehabilitation Certification in Light of Deaths at Narconon
OKLAHOMA CITY (August 24, 2012) A local lawmaker disturbed by suspicious practices of a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in his county of Pittsburg plans to eliminate a loophole which allowed centers deemed “nonmedical” to operate without any state oversight.
In response to the recent deaths at Narconon Arrowheard, early last week Rep. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester, requested the House of Representatives legal staff to draft legislation to require that nonmedical treatment centers must receive oversight and certification from the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
“Many questionable practices have come to light in the last few months that have raised serious safety concerns, not just in Narconon’s reliance of daily 5-hour sauna sessions and a rigid vitamin regimen to combat withdrawals, but in the quality of their staff, which appear to be inadequately educated and trained in the care and treatment of patients with drug and alcohol addictions,” said Rep. Renegar.
Narconon Arrowhead, which is associated with the Church of Scientology, has had seven patient deaths since 2005, three of which occurred in the last nine months.
Narconon first came to Oklahoma in 1989 when it signed a 25-year lease with the Ponca tribe for its new 75-bed center in Chilocco. Narconon originally challenged Oklahoma’s authority to regulate the facility, claiming that they were not required to obtain certification or licensing from the state by virtue of its location on federal trust land held for the benefit of five Indian tribes comprising the Chilocco Development Authority.
As Narconon expanded its treatment to include non-Indians, they attempted and ultimately failed to receive certification from the Oklahoma’s Department of Mental Health, which denied them on the basis that there was no credible evidence that the program was effective for chemical dependency. At the time, however, the state allowed for the center to get an exemption from certification when Narconon went instead to a private group, the Commission for Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) based out of Arizona, for approval.
In 2001 Narconon decided to close the Chilocco center and moved to its present location at the Arrowhead Lodge on Lake Eufaula.
State law later changed wherein the CARF certification alone was no longer sufficient to satisfy state licensing issues. The Department of Mental Health acknowledged the CARF approval, but only as it applied to the first of Narconon’s four steps in its treatment program — the non-medical withdrawal phase. Lacking proper certification was Narconon’s practice of rehabilitating people with substance abuse issues with saunas, vitamins and minerals.
“For whatever reason, the health and wellbeing of vulnerable citizens with addictions were allowed to be exploited, and in seven instances, people died as a result of this exploitation, all while in the care of Narconon Arrrowhead. I will do my best to work with all the appropriate parties to ensure we better protect our sons and daughters who are simply seeking help for their substance abuse issues.”
Two weeks following the General Election in November legislators will be authorized to prefile bills and resolutions for introduction.
The House of Representatives will convene for the First Regular Session of the 54th Oklahoma Legislature on Tuesday, January 8, 2013.