Panel of experts finds Scientology’s Narconon lectures outdated, inaccurate
A free anti-drug program that teaches children concepts from the Church of Scientology earned a failing grade Friday from public health officials who were asked by San Francisco school administrators to evaluate it.
The program, Narconon Drug Prevention & Education, “often exemplifies the outdated, non-evidence-based and sometimes factually inaccurate approach, which has not served students well for decades,” concluded Steve Heilig, director of health and education for the San Francisco Medical Society.
In his letter to Trish Bascom, director of health programs for the San Francisco Unified School District, Heilig said five independent experts in the field of drug abuse had helped him evaluate Narconon’s curriculum. Heilig declined to name them but said four were doctors certified in addiction medicine.
In its reporting, The Chronicle found that Narconon’s lectures often taught students information that is widely dismissed by mainstream medical experts. This includes that drugs — including ecstasy, LSD and marijuana — accumulate indefinitely in body fat, where they cause recurring drug cravings for months or years; drugs in fat cause flashbacks even years after the user quits; the vitamin niacin pulls drugs from fat, and saunas sweat them from the body; and colored ooze is produced when drugs exit the body.
Bascom and San Francisco schools chief Arlene Ackerman had asked Heilig to evaluate Narconon after The Chronicle published articles in June and July showing that its anti-drug instruction rests on concepts that mainstream medical experts generally reject but are embraced by the Church of Scientology.
The medical experts minced no words in their harsh assessment of Narconon. A local Scientologist who provides the Narconon lectures has made presentations to students of all ages in San Francisco schools since 1991. At least 34 city schools have hosted the lecturer since 2000.
“One of our reviewers opined that ‘this (curriculum) reads like a high school science paper pieced together from the Internet, and not very well at that,’ ” Heilig wrote Bascom. “Another wrote that ‘my comments will be brief, as this proposal hardly merits detailed analysis.’ Another stated, ‘As a parent, I would not want my child to participate in this kind of ‘education.’ “
Heilig’s team evaluated Narconon against a recent study by Rodney Skager, a professor emeritus at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, describing what good anti-drug programs should offer students.
“We concurred that … the Narconon materials focus on some topics of lesser importance to the exclusion of best knowledge and practices,” Heilig wrote, and that the curriculum contained “factual errors in basic concepts such as physical and mental effects, addiction and even spelling.”
Clark Carr, president of Narconon International, disputed the findings and emphasized that the Narconon program opposed drugs of all kinds, including drugs used to treat addictions. He accused the medical society of preferring programs that rely on a useless “drug-based medical solution.”
“We have the results,” he said. “The ‘review’ from biased sources shows that people who endorse so-called controlled drug use cannot be trusted to review a program advocating totally drug-free living. We will continue to work to help the children of San Francisco to learn factual and important truths about drugs.”
L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology, co-founded Narconon in 1966. He added the niacin and sauna components in the late 1970s. Similarly, Scientology churches often feature saunas because the religion teaches that drugs and other toxins accumulate in fat and impede spiritual development. Its “tissue-cleansing regimen” is called “purification.”
Church spokeswoman Linda Simmons Hight told The Chronicle that the secular version is Narconon.
Today, Narconon drug rehabilitation centers and anti-drug education programs are in several nations and states, including California. At least 39 school districts have recently hosted Narconon in the classroom.
After The Chronicle articles appeared, state Superintendent Jack O’Connell asked a Hayward-based public agency known for its rigorous reviews of health curriculum to evaluate Narconon. In July, the California Healthy Kids Resource Center agreed to spend three months reviewing Narconon. Executive Director Deborah Woods said recently that the agency had not started yet because it was waiting for Narconon to send in its curriculum.
In San Francisco, Superintendent Ackerman has barred Narconon from classrooms pending the results of Heilig’s report.
She and Bascom, the school health director, said they would not comment on the new review until they had read all of the material Heilig gave them, including the UCLA report titled, “Findings and Recommendations for More Effective Drug Education for Children and Youth: Honesty, Respect and Assistance When Needed.”