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FOX 25 SPECIAL REPORTS
Most news teams just scratch the surface, but Fox 25 Special Reports go beyond the headlines to give you the whole story.
Narconon Rehab Deaths
After three deaths within a nine month period at the same drug rehab facility, three families come together to share their stories about what they think caused the deaths of their children. Narconon Arrowhead is a drug rehab facility in the town of Canadian, Oklahoma that receives support from the Church of Scientology.
Back in May, Fox 25 was the first station to tell you about deaths at Narconon Arrowhead. Since then, a criminal investigation has been launched into the facility, lawmakers have announced plans for legislation and the story has even made national headlines. We spoke with one of the agencies that's investigating Narconon Arrowhead.
Narconon Arrowhead has had three deaths behind its walls.
"They murdered her, just flat murdered her," said Matthew Holten.
There were two protests, aimed to shut down the facility.
"I'm celebrating his life," said Shirley Anne Gilliam on June 23rd. "The last place I saw him alive was here."
Now three families come together to share their stories.
"Three of them in the same facility," said Suzan Holten. "I mean, people need to know that."
"I definitely feel like this could have been prevented," said Tonya White.
"I don't want anybody else to lose their child," said Gilliam.
Narconon Arrowhead promoted itself as "one of the most successful treatment programs in the world." That drew Hillary Holten's family to the facility.
"Suzan showed me the website," said Matthew Holten. "I looked at it, I said, well that looks like a really nice place and it looks almost like a resort."
Narconon claims a "more than 70% succes rate."
"Which I thought was amazing," said Gilliam.
That also attracted Gabriel Graves' mom, Shirley Anne Gilliam to the program.
"Here is this place that his this phenomenal success rate, then they're willing to pay the big dollars," said Gary Richardson of Richardson Richardson Boudreux Keesling, Attorney for the families.
The families say the program costs around $30,000.
"I believe they're really about money and recruiting Scientology and Scientologists," said Gilliam.
A video on Narconon's website refers to L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology.
"Narconon's New Life Detoxification Program is the culmination of L. Ron Hubbard's drug rehabilitation research and is the only program of its kind," states the website video.
Narconon Arrowhead has refused our requests for interviews several times. But in statement, CEO Gary Smith said, "We are proud of the fact that Narconon has enjoyed and looks forward to the continued support of the Church of Scientology and its members." Smith added, "Narconon's treatment approach is based on the secularized version of the writing of the founder of the Scientology religion, L. Ron Hubbard."
"Here's a guy that knows nothing about addiction," said Richardson. "I mean, he has no training, he has no history. I mean, give me a break. I don't even know that he claims to and yet they're using his books?"
Gilliam says she did not know Narconon had ties to the Church of Scientology until after her son entered the program.
"I feel that I was very misled, that they misrepresented their facility," said Gilliam.
Gilliam's son Gabriel was found dead inside Narconon, two months after her checked in.
"His roommate opened the blinds and noticed that he was not alive," said Gilliam.
In April of this year, Suzan and Matthew Holten's daughter Hillary died two days after checking in.
"I was in shock," said Matthew Holten. "Total shock."
Around two months after Hillary's death, Robert Murphy's and Tonya White's daughter, Stacy Murphy checked into Narconon Arrowhead.
"She went there for help to get off her addiction," said Murphy.
Stacy died at Narconon on July 19th.
"I miss her so much and I just never dreamed that anything like this could happen," said White.
More than a year after the first death inside Narconon Arrowhead, questions still remain.
"They can't explain what happned to these young people," asked Richardson.
The Medical Examiner listed Gabriel's cause of death as "not determined." The ME listed Hillary's cause of death as "unknown."
"That just boggles my mind," said Richardson.
"We're concerned anytime there are questions about facilities that we certify," said Jeff Dismukes, Communications Director for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services launched an investigation into Narconon Arrowhead after Fox 25 started looking into the facility. The Department of Mental Health has the power to shut down Narconon Arrowhead is the facility is found to be at fault.
"There is a prescribed action that could be taken which could include a corrective plan, up to loss of certification," said Dismukes.
The department's Director of Communications, Jeff Dismukes says rehab facilities cannot stay in business if their certification is taken away.
"Either run them out of business or regulate them to where they treat people like human beings," said Suzan Holten.
However, Holten says closing down Narconon will not bring her closure. Now as she fights for her daughter, she's also coping with cancer.
"I guess in a way you can look forward," said Suzan Holten. "At least I'm not going to have to live very long. There might be a way I can see her."
For now, all she and her husband want are answers, awareness and justice.
"I think the whole country or the whole world needs to know about what these criminals are doing," said Matthew Holten.
Narconon Deaths - Part Two
After three deaths within a nine month period, a drug rehab facility is now facing three wrongful death lawsuits, several investigations and legislation that would change the way rehab facilties are regulated. We spoke with the three families behind the lawsuits to find out why they're taking legal action.
Narconon Arrowhead is a drug rehab center in the town of Candian, Oklahoma. The facility claims a more than 70% success rate. But the parents of the people who died there say that success rate is misleading.
"Dear mom, you have been the best mom to me," read Tonya White.
Tonya White got this letter from her daugter, Stacy Murphy for her birthday.
"I love you so so so much," read White. "I don't know what I'd do without you. When you die is the day I die."
At the time, Tonya did not know it would be the last letter she would ever receive from her daughter.
"I'm so glad I have this now," said White.
Stacy checked into Narconon Arrowhead on June 4th. A month and a half later, Stacy became the third person to die at the drug rehab facility within a nine month period.
"My baby will never be coming home," said Robert Muprhy.
Narconon Arrowhead's website promotes itself as a "drug free withdrawal program" that "receives Certification from Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services." However, Narconon Arrowhead is under investigation by that same department and the Pittsburg County District Attorney has launched a criminal investigation into the facility.
"The curtain needs to be pulled back and the wizard needs to be in handcuffs," said Matthew Holten.
As part of Narconon's program, patients get vitamins like Niacin and sit in a sauna for hours a day. Narconon's treatment program is based on the writings of L. Ron Hubbard, the Founder of the Church of Scientology.
"The Niacin to the quantities that they use it and being in the sauna the length of time they're in he sauna, I have reason to believe is not a good thing," said Gary Richardson of Richardson Richardson Boudreux Keesling, Attorney for the families.
Narconon Arrowhead would not say exactly how much Niacin patients receive, but its CEO sent a statment saying, "The amount of IR (Immediate Relase) Niacin a person will graduate to during the program varies from person to person."
"They didn't teach you anything about drug rehab, counseling about drugs, counseling about why do you use drugs," said Shirley Anne Gilliam. "It was about reading the books of L. Ron Hubbard and studying Scientology."
Shirley Anne Gilliam's son, Gabriel Graves checked into Narconon in August of last year. She says her son got sick, only after starting Narconon's detox program.
"I didn't know if it was the vitamins, the Niacin, the sauna," said Gilliam.
Gabriel died at Narconon two months after checking in.
"I sent my son there," said Gilliam. "I deal with that everyday. I'll never have closure."
Suzan and Matthew Holten sent their daughter Hillary to Narconon Arrowhead in April.
"If I hadn't done that, it would of been a different story," said Suzan.
Suzan says she told Narconon about a condition her daughter had, called Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia.
"Which means if you get sick, you have to really be overdosed with steroids because you could die suddenly," said Suzan. "You could easily die if you're not treated."
After two days of being at the facility, Hillary died.
"I think it's obvious they didn't give her her medication, because she was there a day and a half and she died," said Richardson.
"I think it's just total negligence on their part," said Robert Murphy.
When Robert Murphy and Tonya White decided to check their daughter Stacy into Narconon Arrowhead, Tonya says the facility told her there was "a doctor on staff." Their attorney, Gary Richardson says a doctor visits Narconon Arrowhead once a week.
"It's rather difficult for me to see how they can, in any consciousness represent that they have a doctor on staff," said Richardson.
Stacy's parents say she tested positive for Opiates while at Narconon.
"No one called 911, nobody monitored her," said Murphy.
Instead, they say staff put Stacy in a detox area and left her alone.
"I'm not sure if it was a couple hours or if it was several hours," said White.
According to an incident report, deputies found Stacy dead inside Narconon the next day.
"They let this girl die," said Richardson.
"These deaths were due to circumstances not in any way connected to Narconon's treatment philosohy or rehabilitation methods," said Gary Smith, CEO of Narconon Arrowhead.
The families of Gabriel, Hillary and Stacy are now suing Narconon for wrongful death. Gary Richardson represents all of them.
"Personally, I think they have to be shut down," said Richardson.
These are not the first lawsuits the rehab center has faced. In 2010, a lawsuit was filed against Narconon Arrowhead for the death of Kaysie Werninck. According to court documents, Werninck died in a hospital around a month after checking into Narconon.
"The responsible Narconon personnel ignored Kaysie's worsening condition and gave her the wrong prescription medication," said Mike Atkinson, attorney for Werninck's family, during an interview on May 30th.
Narconon settled that case with Werninck's family.
Meanwhile, the deaths at Narconon Arrowhead also got the attention of two lawmakers who announced plans to file legislation.
"I'm glad that they are," said Murphy. "I hope that more will come aboard."
Senator Tom Ivester and Representative Brian Renegar said they want laws that would impose tougher regulation on drug treatment programs, like the on at Narconon Arrowhead.
"I think they need to be shut down," said Tonya White.
But Tonya says closing down Narconon Arrowhead will not bring her daughter back. Instead, she says it will help bring justice for her daughter's death.
"At least I will feel like her death will not be in vain," said Tonya White.
Senator Tom Ivester says he plans to file his legislation as soon as the Department of Mental Health releases the outcome of its investigation. The next legislative session starts in February.
Statement from Narconon Arrowhead:
Narconon Arrowhead's CEO Gary Smith declined several requests for an on-camera interview, but he answered our questions via email. Fox 25's questions are in bold and Smith's responses follow:
- The three deaths that happened on the property within a nine month period.
Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of these young people but as sad as these situations are the fact remains that these deaths were due to circumstances not in any way connected to Narconon's treatment philosophy or rehabilitation methods.
- Kaysie Werninck's death.
Ms. Werninck did not pass away in the facility. She passed away in a hospital days after she was admitted there. The legal case that ensued from this situation was settled by all the parties involved.
- Wrongful death lawsuits have been filed against your facility. What is your response?
As you know people bringing law suits seeking money damages are free to make whatever allegations they wish and those are often not true. The Narconon staff is extremely saddened by the deaths of these young adults and extends its sincere condolences to the families that suffered this great loss. However, Narconon was not in any way responsible for these deaths and it fully intends to aggressively defend these claims in the courts. We cannot be more specific at this time because we believe the appropriate place to address these serious allegations is in a court of law and not the media.
- What is your facility's response to the pending investigations (including criminal investigation) against Narconon Arrowhead?
To our knowledge none of the agencies conducting these investigations has accused Narconon or its staff of any wrong doing or negligence. These investigations are standard procedure done by any good law enforcement or state licensing agency when an unexplained death has occurred.
What is Narconon Arrowhead's response to the legislation that two lawmakers plan to file that would target facilities like Narconon?
We have met with legislators who have expressed and interest in our program and the news accounts regarding the lawsuits against us. We have explained our program to them and have answered their questions about it. To our knowledge they do not plan to file legislation which would target programs like Narconon. We would trust that they would await the outcome of the inquiries being made by the appropriate state agencies before making judgments about our program and that if they do file any legislation affecting the work we or other drug rehabilitation programs do that they would discuss the matter with us before taking such action.
- How often is a doctor at Narconon Arrowhead? Several people have told me the doctor is there once a week.
Our medical Director is at the facility at least once a week oftentimes more. There is not a set schedule for services such as these as we are not a medical facility. However, it s important to note that Narconon Arrowhead meets all the state requirements for medical supervision of non medical detox and residential drug and alcohol rehab programs.
- Is Scientology part of Narconon Arrowhead's program? Is Scientology taught there?
While it is true we are proud of the fact that Narconon has enjoyed and looks forward to the continued support of the Church of Scientology and its members. And Narconon's treatment approach is based on the secularized version of the writings of the founder of the Scientology religion, L. Ron Hubbard, the answer to your question is NO.
Mr. Hubbard's research and developments to treat drug and alcohol addiction utilized by Narconon are aligned with the recognized evidence based treatment approach known as "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) http://www.bhrm.org/guidelines/C9BT-Kadden.pdf). The goal of CBT is to help clients unlearn their unwanted reactions and behaviors and learn a new way of reacting. The educational emphasis of CBT can lead to long term results. When people understand how and why they are doing well they know what to do to continue doing well. Narconon's use of Mr. Hubbard's materials are specific to life skills training and nutritional therapies that are designed to improve physical health, develop sound problem identification and solving skills, heighten one's sense of moral values, build self esteem and tech and addict how to improve unwanted conditions and behaviors in their life. These are key treatment objectives in Narconon's addiction recovery process and are in keeping with CBT.
- How much Niacin is given to students? Why?
Niacin is one nutrictional component of Narconon's sauna program. An important factor in the sauna program protocol is that before any participant is allowed to start this program it is mandatory that they receive a full medical assessment from a qualified physician to determine if there are any disabilities or illnesses that would prevent the person from being able to safely participate in all aspects of the sauna program, which includes the use of niacin and other nutritional supplements, exercise and sweating in a dry heat sauna.
Gradually increasing doses of crystalline niacin [Immediate Release (IR) niacin] are administered. IR niacin enhances the release of lipids and increases circulation and is given along with vitamins A, D, C, E, B's, minerals, calcium, magnesium, salt and potassium. IR niacin which is medically safe to use in higher doses is the only form of niacin Narconon uses. The amount of IR niacin a person will graduate to during the program varies from person to person. Weight, general physical condition, drug/alcohol history, age etc. will determine the dosage of IR niacin a person increases to by the time they complete the program.
- How long do students go in the sauna each day?
All participants of the program are monitored by specially trained staff. Students in the program undergo a daily regimin of 20 to 30 minutes of light aerobic exercise to increase circulation. Once the exercise period is done for the next 4 ½ hour period program participants sweat in a dry heat specially ventilated low heat sauna. Sauna temperatures used at narconon are well below those used in most commercial fitness centers. Additionally all program participants take controlled breaks as often as needed to cool down and drink water to stay hydrated. Narconon Arrowhead has nurses on duty 24 hours a day 7 days a week who are available in the event anyone participating in the sauna program experiences any serious difficulties.
FOX 25 - INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER
Posted: Monday, November 19 2012, 10:18 PM CST
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