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Scientology’s Georgia Drug Rehab Hit with Double-Barreled Media Onslaught

For years, people like Mary McConnell and Carnegie Mellon University professor Dave Touretzky have worked tirelessly to get the word out about the deceptive practices and documented abuses at Scientology’s drug rehab program, Narconon.

Several recent deaths at Narconon’s flagship facility in Oklahoma have received a lot of attention lately, but Touretzky urged us to look into a 2008 death in the Atlanta area and an ensuing lawsuit.

We wrote several stories about the death of Patrick Desmond (pictured) and the stunning allegations of deception in the documents of that lawsuit. But now, McConnell and Touretzky’s perseverance is really paying off. Starting yesterday, a coordinated investigation by Atlanta radio and television stations kicked off a multi-part series, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is also reportedly getting in on the act.

It’s Armageddon for Narconon in Georgia.

The allegations in the case are infuriating. Desmond, the son of a Green Beret, had alcohol problems and was sentenced by a Florida court to spend six months in an in-patient rehab program. His mother, like so many before, fell victim to a slick online come-on by Narconon’s facility in the Atlanta area, which promised in-patient, residential care, and effective drug counseling. What the Desmond family wasn’t told, however, was that Narconon Georgia has never had a license to house patients, and, like all Narconon facilities, what it offers is Scientology training, not drug counseling.

Documents in the lawsuit show that Narconon Georgia’s executive director, Mary Rieser, had set up a housing facility by having a couple of Scientologists lease a set of nearby apartments. But Narconon’s own documents show that the apartment building, One Sovereign Place, was poorly supervised by former patients who were drinking and doing drugs with the current patients. It was in that environment that Patrick Desmond drank heavily, then experimented with heroin, overdosed, and died.

His parents are suing Narconon Georgia and Narconon International, and the depositions and documents in the case are jaw-dropping. As we reported before, one of the rehab center employees testified that Rieser was purposefully changing the center’s letterhead when communications were made with Desmond’s Florida court, so that its nature as an outpatient-only clinic was hidden from the court. (We interviewed the court officer who was lied to, and she wasn’t happy about it.)

We were also stunned by what Narconon’s own expert witness, Dr. Louis A. Casal, testified to in a deposition with Desmond family lawyer Jeff Harris. As WSB radio reporter Pete Combs shows in a part of his excellent series, Casal at certain points in his testimony sounds like a witness for the Desmonds!

Casal appears deeply skeptical of Narconon’s claims to have a 70 percent success rate (some Narconon centers claim up to 90 percent success), when most legitimate centers work hard to make sure even 25 percent of their patients remain sober long term.

Casal also admits that it’s pure scientific bunk to say that sitting for hours in a sauna somehow sweats “toxins” out of the body, the central tenet of L. Ron Hubbard’s vaunted “purification rundown,” which forms one of the key parts of Narconon’s program.

While Combs is taking Narconon’s case apart on radio, WSB-TV Channel 2’s Jodie Fleischer put together her own stunning presentation of the case yesterday.

After listening to Combs and watching Fleischer (and the AJC is reportedly joining in), you have to assume that many people in Georgia are asking themselves the questions that others have been asking for years…

Why is an unscientific, deceptive program allowed to hoodwink judges, court officers, and parents, and, in this case, deceive the state’s licensing authority? How many more patients have to die before government authorities start doing their jobs to protect the most vulnerable people in our society from these practices?

UPDATE: After asking that last question, we might have found an answer to it. Why do government authorities have a hard time enforcing the law when it comes to Scientology’s front groups? Oh yeah, because of other government officials…

That image is taken from one of Narconon’s websites. With Atlanta’s mayor on board, how could they go wrong?

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