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CCHR and Narconon

by L. J. West, M.D.

Originally printed in "The Southern California Psychiatrist," May 1991, pp. 6-13.  Dr. West has granted permission to upload this article to computer networks and bulletin boards

In a previous article (SCPS Newsletter, July, 1990) I provided an historical account of the Church of Scientology. It is a pseudo-scientific healing cult that was formed in the 1950s, and has grown, with the help of extravagant lies and deliberate deception, into a multimillion dollar, international enterprise. Through its many publications, but especially through its newspaper "Freedom," Scientology regularly defames its critics (such as myself) and praises its friends (such as Thomas Szasz).

Scientology conducts sophisticated intelligence operations and campaigns of misinformation both directly and through a variety of front organizations. One such entity is the citizen's Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), the main purpose of which apparently is to attack psychiatry, especially in its biological aspects, and to harass, discourage, and intimidate private organizations and individual critics classified as enemies of Scientology. Established in 1969, the CCHR's central office is in Los Angeles with local offices throughout the United States and abroad. The CCHR is frequently behind both personal and legal undertakings directed against members of the American Psychiatric Association and also, of course, against he specialty as a whole. The attempts (and sometimes) successes of the CCHR to discredit the psychiatric specialty are documented in its publications such as "Psychiatric Abuse Bulletin" and "Psychiatry Update." These efforts have included number of lawsuits accusing doctors of negligence in prescribing methylphenidate (Ritalin) for children who, it is alleged, suffered side effects including violent and assaultive behavior, stunted growth, hallucinations, suicidal depression, headaches and nervous spasms. Interestingly enough the two companies that market methylphenidate (Ciba Geigy of Summit, New Jersey, and M.D. Pharmaceuticals of Santa Anna, California) are not names as defendants. The president of CCHR is Dennis Clarke. He is neither a scientist nor a clinician, but nevertheless is an oft-cited "expert" on Ritalin.

The CCHR is also behind recent attempts to force fluoxetine Prozac) off the market, including letter-writing campaigns to a number of U.S. senators and congressmen and support of the Prozac defense" in which defendants claim their violent behavior was caused by Prozac. Similar tactics by CCHR aimed against electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) have had their effect: or example they have prompted members of the FDA to reconsider he classification of ECT devices from Class II (the category or trustworthy medical devices that require performance standards, such as x-ray machines) to Class III (reserved for devices presenting a considerable risk and requiring premarket approval, such as artificial heart valves). The CCHR sponsored California's present anti-ECT statutes, which have imposed rigid restrictions on the use of ECT and in many cases have resulted in the needless and prolonged suffering of patients thus denied appropriate and necessary treatment. (A small group of ECT patients grateful for the treatment's benefits, their family members, and the Association for Convulsive Therapy, have filed lawsuit, Doe v. O'Connor, to overturn this regulation on constitutional grounds.)

With Clarke often visibly in charge, the CCHR frequently stages demonstrations at the annual APA meetings to protest ECT, Ritalin, and psychiatry in general. At these rallies, seismologists and also disgruntled mental patients recruited for he purpose, picket, carry signs and dispense leaflets enouncing psychiatry, and may disrupt session to which they ain admission. Sometimes they wear t-shirts that declare Psychiatry Kills." Occasionally, airplanes fly overhead towing banners that proclaim the same. Similar demonstrations are sometimes held outside psychiatric facilities, such as the UCLA neuropsychiatric Institute and Hospital. Such a picketing exercise is often covered by the local media, who are notified and invited in advance by those who have planned the scenario.

Another Scientology front group that impacts psychiatry is Narconon, an international enterprise that claims to rehabilitate drug addicts but which is primarily a recruitment program for Scientology. Narconon was founded in the late 1960s y William C. Benitez, while he was in Arizona State Prison. Benitez avowedly based his program on the writings of L. Ron Hubbard. After prison officials granted permission for inmates o participate in the new program, Benitez contacted Hubbard, ho saw the potential to increase Scientology revenues and membership, and who offered the resources of the Church of Scientology to expand the program to other prisons and to the public. Soon thereafter, Narconon was incorporated (in 1970), under the direction of Benitez and two high-ranking Scientology staff members, Arthur J. Maren and Henning Heldt. Narconon's ain headquarters is now in Los Angeles, but it has centers throughout the United States and elsewhere in the world. In the last few years, some of its facilities in Italy and Spain have been closed and their staff members arrested on charges ranging rom fraud and medical malpractice to criminal conspiracy to extort money and unlawful detention. In North America, however, t is still considered business as usual for Narconon.

The five steps in the Narconon program include withdrawal,

detoxification, sauna sweat-out, a communication course, and treatment courses in "learning improvement," "gaining control of life" and "living an ethical life," which are identical with Scientology courses compiled from the works of L. Ron Hubbard and taught in Scientology organizations and missions. Each treatment course is really a succession of dianetic auditing sessions, which claim to rid the individual of unwanted attitudes, emotions and behaviors, but which usually lead to contracts for more "advanced" courses costing more and involving he patient more and more deeply in the Church of Scientology.

As noted in the article last July, dianetic auditing offers a series of supposedly therapeutic courses based on Hubbard's science fiction amalgam of pop-psychology, hypnosis and cybernetics. Auditors themselves receive training through courses of their own. This works as a pyramid scheme, with people auditing those at levels below them while being audited y others at levels above them. The courses that make up the Narconon program, like those for other recruits to the Church of Scientology, represent the introductory or lowest level of the pyramid. Jerry Whitfield, a Narcononer-high-ranking staff ember of Narconon El Paso, tells how he was pressured to direct Narconon patients onto the BRIDGE from Narconon to the Church of Scientology (a process diagrammed in procedural manuals) and was required to transmit statistics weekly on the number of new Scientology recruits. Potential recruits are lured by promises hat upon completion of all series of courses, they will gain permanent relief from unpleasant emotions and the sufferings of life, be ensured freedom from all past limitations, be immune to psychosomatic disorders, and even to the harmful effects of thermonuclear radiation, etc., etc.

The Scientology detoxification procedure, called the "Hubbard method" within Narconon or the "purification rundown" within Scientology, is supposed to dislodge toxins and drugs from fatty issues through a rigorous regimen of exercise saunas (up to five hours a day, for up to 30 days), and megavitamins. Aspects f this procedure can be dangerous. For example, the sweat-out" component requires individuals to perspire up to five hours per day, seven days a week, for approximately 30 days. The risk of dehydration is obvious. At least one death s said to have occurred during "the purification rundown." while the supposed rationale for the sweat-out is to rid the body of fat-stored drugs and chemicals, there is no scientific asis for the technique. Most drugs of abuses are removed from he body by detoxification and excretion through the liver, the kidneys and (in some instances) through the lungs. Although minute quantities of some drugs may be found in sweat, the mount represent such a small fraction of drug elimination that o matter how much an individual is forced to perspire through exercise and saunas, the clearance of most drugs of abuse would not be significantly increased. Nevertheless, Scientologists re aggressively promoting the Hubbard method to public and private employers for use with employees exposed to toxic substances on their jobs.

Narconon is now attempting to license its Chilocco/New Life facility near Newkirk, Oklahoma. This is its second residential rug-treatment center in the united States; all others are for ambulatory cases. In 1989, the Church took over the Chilocco Indian School, with a 25-year lease from the five Indian tribes hat share the reservation. At a staged ceremony, local residents were impressed when a "benefactor" -- The Association or Better Living and Education (ABLE) presented Narconon a 200,000 check. In fact, ABLE shares Narconon International's os Angeles address and is another Scientology front. Licensure f the Narconon facility at Chilocco has been vigorously opposed y community and professional groups. Narconon officials at Chilocco have strenuously denied any link with Scientology.

Narconon is widely touted by its vendors with advertisements going to health professional of all kinds, and with heavy promotional activities on college campuses. Because of its name probably contrived for this purpose), Narconon is often confused with Narcotics Anonymous (NA) which is a reputable elf-help group similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. Narconon's striving for an appearance of respectability is typical of cult-related ventures. Many such cults, like the Church of Scientology, the Unification Church, the Church Universal and triumphant, and others with plenty of money to employ public relations experts and top law firms, are dangerously close to succeeding in their claims to legitimacy.

"Dr. West is professor of psychiatry, School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles.

 
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