A popular anti-drug program provided free to schools in San Francisco and elsewhere teaches concepts straight out of the Church of Scientology, including medical theories that some addiction experts described as "irresponsible" and "pseudoscience."
As a result, students are being introduced to somebeliefs and methods of Scientology without their knowledge.
Anyone listening to a classroom talk by Narconon Drug Prevention & Education is unlikely to recognize the connection with Scientology; the lessons sound nothing like theology. Instruction is delivered in language purged of most church parlance, but includes "all the Scientology and Dianetics Handbook basics," according to Scientology correspondence obtained by The Chronicle.
Narconon's anti-drug instruction rests on these key church concepts: that the body stores all kinds of toxins indefinitely in fat, where they wreak havoc on the mind until "sweated" out. Those ideas are rejected by the five medical experts contacted by The Chronicle, who say there is no evidence to support them.
Narconon was created by L. Ron Hubbard, the late science-fiction writer who founded Scientology, a religion that claims to improve the well-being of followers through courses aimed at self-improvement and global serenity. Narconon operates a global network of drug treatment centers, as well as education programs for elementary, middle and high school students.
Its lectures have reached 1.7 million children around the nation in the last decade, Narconon officials said, and more than 30,000 San Francisco students since 1991. Meanwhile, Narconon's anti-drug message and charismatic speakers earn rave reviews from students and teachers.
Narconon officials are adamant that Narconon is secular and that a firewall exists between it and the Church of Scientology, and San Francisco school health officials say they know of no church-state problem with Narconon or of any pseudoscience taught.
But a close look reveals a crossover of church language, materials, concepts, personnel and some finances, leading to accusations that Scientology has slipped into public classrooms.
"Narconon, to me, is Scientology," said Lee Saltz, a drug counselor with the Los Angeles school district, where Narconon has made classroom presentations for many years. "We don't use their curriculum because it's not grounded in science. But they bypass our office and go directly to the schools. They're very persistent."
Narconon speakers tell students that the body stores drugs indefinitely in fat, where they cause drug cravings and flashbacks. Students are told that sweating through exercise or sauna rids the body of these "poisons." And, some teachers said, the speakers tell students that the drug residues produce a colored ooze when exiting the body.
"It's pseudoscience, right up there with colonic irrigation," said Dr. Peter Banys, director of substance abuse programs at the VA Medical Center in San Francisco.
Dr. Igor Grant, professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at UC San Diego, agreed: "I'm not aware of any data that show that going into a sauna detoxifies you from toxins of any kind. " Three other addiction experts contacted by The Chronicle echoed their skepticism.
But Narconon officials say their science is sound and their curriculum free of religion. And they say Narconon is legally and financially separate from the church.
"It's our job to keep them separate," said Clark Carr, president of Narconon International and a Scientologist. "We work full time to do this. If we went into the school district as Scientology, with the separation of church and state, it wasn't going to work. It would be as if someone said, 'I have some things in the Bible I think would be very helpful.' No, thank you. It's corporately and financially separate, and that's appropriate.
"For us, the larger issue is that kids need help. We're not in this for any other agenda.''
Federal law prohibits religious instruction in public schools -- but it also prevents school officials from ousting secular programs just because they are provided by religious groups.
Narconon is an efficiently run program with a well-received anti-drug message for grades three to 12. Its popularity with kids and teachers cuts a wide swath -- from the posh suburbs of Malibu to the urban classrooms San Francisco. Speakers pepper their presentations with personal tales of drug abuse and redemption and emphasize the importance of knowing how drugs affect the body.
Currently, Narconon speakers lecture at schools in San Francisco, Orange County and Los Angeles County.
Carr, Narconon's president, said school lectures have been given in 10 other counties -- including Santa Clara, San Mateo, Marin and Sonoma -- 23 other states and 39 other countries. He said drug treatment centers operate in two dozen countries.
A Chronicle review of Narconon's curriculum found that, like the Church of Scientology, Narconon embraces Hubbard's belief that experiences are recorded in three-dimensional images in the mind, with sound and smell, called "mental image pictures" or "pictures in the mind." Taking any drug "scrambles" the pictures.
"Our take-home message is that drugs are essentially poison," Carr said. "This is how we basically explain it to them. Drugs scramble pictures. When people take drugs, they affect the mental pictures."
Scientologists believe that scrambled pictures interfere with one's ability to "go clear," a state of mental purity that is a goal of the religion.
In his 1979 Scientology text "Clear Body, Clear Mind," Hubbard writes that high doses of the vitamin niacin and hours of sauna flush out drugs, "freeing the person up for mental and spiritual gain." He calls it "Purification," and Scientology churches often are equipped with saunas, said ex-Scientologists and a tour guide at San Francisco's church.
Hubbard writes that drugs in fat "re-stimulate" the unwanted mental pictures created when the drugs were taken.
These beliefs grew out of Hubbard's writings about the mind in the 1940s and 1950s. He first characterized Scientology as a religious philosophy in 1951, and three years later the first church opened in Los Angeles. More than 3,200 "churches, missions and groups" followed in 154 countries, Scientology's Web site says.
Hubbard created Narconon in 1966 with William Benitez, an Arizona inmate and addict turned anti-drug crusader. Treatment began as vitamins and exercise. In 1978, Hubbard added his "tissue-cleansing regimen" of niacin and sauna, which "greatly reduces or eliminates cravings for drugs that stem from hidden drug toxins," says Narconon's Web site.
Hubbard died in 1986 while Scientology was in a dispute with the Internal Revenue Service over its tax status. Shortly after, his followers legally grouped his many enterprises, including Narconon, into religious and secular divisions. (Scientology gained tax-exempt church status in 1993.)
In 1988, church members created the nonprofit Association for Better Living and Education, or ABLE, to oversee four secular programs: The Way to Happiness Foundation, promoting Hubbard's 21 "moral precepts"; Applied Scholastics, an education program; Criminon, a "life improvement" course for prison inmates; and Narconon.
ABLE's purpose was to deliver Hubbard's ideas to the public, said Bob Adams, its senior vice president and a Scientologist.
In 2001, ABLE reported assets of $20.6 million to the IRS, records show. Today, it occupies the elegant former Screen Actors Guild building in Hollywood, which it bought from the Church of Scientology for $2 million in 2000.
Narconon's lecturers and top administrators readily acknowledge that they are Scientologists. A church spokeswoman said the link is strong but unofficial.
"Is there a connection between Scientologists and Narconon? Resoundingly yes," said Linda Simmons Hight of the Church of Scientology International. "Scientologists are thoroughly mixed with the activities and finances of Narconon. I'm not talking about the church. I'm talking about (individual) Scientologists."
For example, Scientologists pay for Narconon's school lectures and operate Narconon drug treatment centers across the country. At Narconon International in Watsonville, the treatment center nearest the Bay Area, eight of the nine members of the board of directors promote Scientology on the Web or are listed as having completed religious courses.
And of the 15 small businesses that pay for Narconon lectures in San Francisco schools, the owners or employees of at least 10 tout Scientology on the Web or have completed courses.
"Scientologists are among the major supporters of Narconon drug rehab and drug education, financially and through volunteer actions, because we're so aware of the destructive effects of drugs on our society -- and because we have the solution to drugs," Hight said.
"In the secular setting, it's Narconon. In the church, it's the Purification handling."
But former Scientologists who have worked for the church and for Narconon say the connection goes far beyond shared values.
"Narconon's orders come from the Church of Scientology's senior management," said Tory Christman, a former church member who worked briefly at Narconon International. "Their programs, policies -- it's all church policy. There's no question about this to anyone involved."
A 30-year veteran of Scientology, Christman left in 2000. She said she suffered seizures after following a church recommendation to stop taking epilepsy medicine, and she decided to quit after that.
Joe Keldani, who ran Canada's Narconon from 1972 to 1978, agreed. "My orders were very exact: You are a separate organization. But every Thursday you have to make a report, and every detail goes uplines," he said. "On some issues, my reports went all the way up to Mary Sue Hubbard," wife of the founder.
Keldani ran the Canadian Narconon long before ABLE was established as Narconon's secular oversight agency. But Keldani left Scientology only in November, citing personal disagreements with church officials. "There's no doubt in my mind that international Scientology management is running Narconon, " he said.
Adams of ABLE vigorously denied that connection. "ABLE does not report its statistics to the church," he said.
In class, Narconon's curriculum identifies Hubbard as an "author and humanitarian" and does not mention Scientology. Yet the language of Scientology has crept into the classroom. For example, Narconon's syllabus for San Francisco schools calls for a "communication drill."
"Communication drills are one of the basic tools taught by Scientology," said Christman, the ex-church member. "It's the first course that anyone who enters Scientology gets -- or Narconon rehab. It's sitting across from someone and looking at them for as long as it takes to 'be there comfortably,' in Hubbard's words. No movement, no speaking, no facial tics -- nothing."
Nathan Johnson, who has given Narconon lectures in San Francisco schools for 13 years, has students greet each other with a handshake or high-five, which he calls a communication drill.
"It's not really Scientology," Johnson said. "I know Scientology because I've been in it a long time. But that little communication drill, I've never had anyone say, 'What's that?' Kids like it."
Another church reference in the classroom is the "tone scale." That is Scientology's hierarchy of emotions, which runs from "serenity of beingness" to "total failure," according to the church's Web site.
Tony Bylsma, director of Narconon's education program, used a tone scale recently in his presentation to ninth-graders at Centennial High in Compton (Los Angeles County). Standing before the students in the school gym, he drew a vertical line on a white board and labeled the top "happy" and the bottom "sad." He said to the students: "Let's say someone says to someone, 'Let's smoke (marijuana).' If he smokes, is he going up or down on the scale?"
"Up!" called the class.
"Right. But happy doesn't come for free. Soon, he goes back down. But that's OK -- he knows how to fix that now" by trying harder and harder drugs, Bylsma said. He drew an up-and-down line on the scale that ultimately sank toward "sad."
As his lecture ended, Bylsma turned to the students and said, "I want to say thank you to a man named William Benitez who started the program, and thank you to L. Ron Hubbard! Thanks to them, we have the program in 37 countries! Let's give them a hand!" And the students clapped.
Afterward, several students told a reporter who observed the class that they had learned a lot.
Meanwhile, e-mails sent to a private Scientology group and forwarded to The Chronicle by a former Scientologist reveal other ways the church influences classroom instruction. The ex-Scientologist declined to be identified, citing fear of reprisal from the church.
But the e-mails, written by Scientologists, state frankly that Narconon's instruction is delivered in language cleansed of obvious church expressions and that its speakers rely on church texts called Ethics and "Organizational Executive Courses" to run it.
One of the e-mails was written by Bylsma. On Jan. 24, 2002, he appealed to fellow Scientologists for donated books and other items to help him set up a new Narconon office. In Scientology's dialect, such physical items are known as MEST, which stands for "matter, energy, space, time."
In the e-mail's subject line, Bylsma wrote: "MEST Donations Needed for Narconon Drug Ed." He requested "4 current Ethics Books, 1 current Vol. 0, any current OECs, 1 or 2 good computers" and office space for four.
"Ethics books" contain church rules and sell for $40 on the Scientology Web site. Volume Zero is part of Hubbard's "Organizational Executive Courses," or OECs, which are 14 books on running an organization on Scientology principles. They sell for $155 each.
Asked about the e-mail and why Narconon uses religious texts, Bylsma said the books are helpful.
"Those are not secular books, and there's a certain amount that is unusable for Narconon," he said. "But there are certain things that do apply. I know a lot of organizations that are not religious that use Mr. Hubbard's organization technology -- doctors, lawyers, whole groups."
In another e-mail, Jackie Flowers-Catarineau, who until recently was listed on the Web as a spokeswoman for the Scientology club Renaissance Speakers, tried to attract new Narconon instructors. On Feb. 16, 2002, she wrote Scientologists that Bylsma would give a talk at Celebrity Centre International, the church's ornate Hollywood convention hall.
"Bear in mind," she wrote, "as a Narconon speaker in the schools, you don't mix the religious stuff -- but the talks are needed everywhere!"
On March 15, 2002, Flowers-Catarineau sent out a reminder about Bylsma's talk. She promised that he would explain how to convey church concepts to students in plain English. She wrote:
"Tony will go over how to do seminars but the information is SO basic that it'll show you how to handle kids, parents, teachers as groups OR ONE-ON- ONE on what drugs do to both the mind and body. ... He gives examples of how drugs scramble the pictures in the mind, how it stores in the body and how it takes one down the tone scale lower and lower -- ALL IN NON-SCIENTOLOGY TERMS. ... All the Scientology and Dianetics Handbook basics but in simple descriptions!"
Flowers-Catarineau did not return three phone calls seeking comment.
Rena Weinberg, ABLE's president, said Flowers-Catarineau wrote "in terms that were personal to her," so it is not known what she had in mind. But Weinberg denied that the e-mail meant Narconon and its methods were religious. "They are not. They are secular, and everything you see in the Narconon program and lectures are, likewise."
Adams of ABLE said questions about church ties distract from Narconon's purpose of giving students a solid anti-drug education.
"We feel we're on a mission, and it's for the good of all of us," he said. "It's part of the overall plan to collaborate with other groups and bring about a shift in the culture with regard to drug education, prevention and rehabilitation."
Astra Woodcraft, a former Scientologist, said Narconon's interest in changing the culture coincides with Scientology's, which is to lay the groundwork for a spiritually pure world. Born into the church, Woodcraft quit in 1998 at age 20 to pursue school and career.
"The purpose of Scientology is to 'clear the planet,' " she said. "To make every single person clear means free of their 'reactive mind,' which is like your subconscious that makes you feel bad things."
Scientologists view Narconon's anti-drug mission as a step in that direction because drugs are believed to prevent a person from going clear, she said.
Christman and other ex-Scientologists familiar with Narconon said that Narconon also serves to present Hubbard and his vision in a positive light.
"At Narconon (they're) handling drugs in society. But in truth, it's to 'safe point the environment' -- a goodwill gesture so they can recruit people," Christman said.
Narconon does not appear to overtly recruit new members in the public schools. But in some schools, teachers said Narconon speakers post hot line numbers and hand out brochures, making it possible for students and families to find their way to a Narconon treatment center.
Johnson acknowledged telling students that Narconon has a center in Watsonville and that counseling is available there. "But I didn't give them any specific information because it's not realistic for a San Francisco teen to go all the way there," he said.
Narconon's drug education program has never undergone a rigorous review by independent scientists and is therefore not eligible to appear on the federal government's lists of "effective," "model" or "promising" programs.
"We certainly know we need to do it," Carr said of such a review. "The problem has been having enough time."
Still, Narconon's Web site says the program is highly effective, based on responses to questionnaires given to students and teachers after each presentation.
"To date, we have received an overall 95 percent positive response to the program," says the site. "Forty percent reported an increased perception of risk. Forty-five percent said their decision not to use drugs had been reinforced after hearing the talk. Over 90 percent felt they knew more about drugs after the talk."
Narconon gave The Chronicle a sampling of questionnaires from anonymous students and teachers.
"I think Nathan is very funny and very cool," wrote a ninth-grader from San Francisco's Lincoln High.
"I can use (what I learned) to save my life from lung cancer and the drugs in your fat," wrote a fourth-grader from Commodore Sloat Elementary.
"It was very effective," wrote a fifth-grade teacher from San Francisco's Peabody Elementary. "I now realize that (drugs are) more dangerous than I thought. I did not know that (they) stay in the fat in your body."
Several medical experts question the validity of what students are being told about drugs.
"Where's the evidence that supports what they're saying?" asked Dr. Timmen Cermak of the Henry Ohlhoff treatment program in San Francisco and author of "Marijuana: What's a Parent to Believe?"
"They're certainly spouting this as though it's proven, but it's not considered important enough to be talked about within the addiction medicine field," he said. "It's irresponsible."
The doctors contacted by The Chronicle agreed that drug residue can remain in fat for a short time, but not indefinitely.
"The longest we know that THC (the active substance in marijuana) stays in the fat is about a month. For ecstasy and LSD, we're talking about a day or two," said Dr. Neal Benowitz , head of clinical pharmacology at UCSF.
Nor is there evidence that drugs in fat cause cravings or flashbacks, said Banys, of San Francisco's VA Medical Center. "You could also say that craving is caused by evil spirits, which cause you to do bad things and therefore it's demonic possession. You couldn't prove it wasn't, and it seemed to make sense. But that's the use of metaphor, not science."
Banys said research shows that cravings are associated with dopamine, a neurotransmitter. And Cermak said flashbacks are thought to be prompted by "re- exposure to the drug-taking situation, or a reasonable facsimile (that) causes the brain to begin experiencing some of the same chemical changes that administering the drug itself produces."
Drs. Benowitz, Banys and Cermak dismissed the idea that niacin and sauna can rid the body of drugs, as did Dr. David Smith of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic and Dr. Igor Grant at UC San Diego.
Recently, a San Francisco teacher complained to the district that Narconon was a Scientology front group. The teacher declined to be identified or quoted, citing Scientology's history of confronting critics. The teacher has teamed with David Touretzky, a computer science research professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and a free-speech advocate who runs an anti-Narconon Web site that includes some controversial material.
Together, they have pushed school officials to oust Narconon through a section on Touretzky's Web site called "Narconon/Scientology Infiltration of the San Francisco Unified School District."
Kim Coates, a district health administrator who looked into the teacher's complaint, asked Sigal Adini, Narconon's program director, if the curriculum was religious.
"Narconon is a secular (nonreligious) program, and neither our staff nor speakers promote religious doctrines of any kind," Adini wrote the district.
Coates told The Chronicle that "there has been no indication of proselytizing or recruiting or anything inappropriate. It's up to the school and individual classroom to decide what will best serve students."
San Francisco schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman said she had been unfamiliar with Narconon, which arranges visits with individual schools. But she said her staff is looking into the program and all others that come into the schools.
"We want to make sure (they are) aligned with what we want our students to know and be able to do," Ackerman said.
The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State in Washington, D.C., has defended Scientology as a legitimate religious movement. But he called the connections between Narconon and the church "very disturbing."
"Any time you have a religion which preaches something that shows up in nearly parallel form in public schools, it sounds to me like you have a church- state problem that is real and should be examined by school officials.''
He cited the case of a New Jersey family that sued their child's teacher for preventing the child from reading the story of Jacob and Esau to the class, even though the child promised not to mention the Bible or God.
The court sided with the teacher.
"We treat schools rightly as a very special place where we need to protect impressionable children because their parents have the right to decide what, if any, religious education they receive," Lynn said. "That is not the job of even well-intentioned teachers or others invited into the public school. "
After each anti-drug lecture, Narconon's classroom speakers hand a questionnaire to students and teachers who list their school and grade, but not their name. Like many students, this fifth-grader from San Francisco's George Peabody Elementary liked the talk and promised never to smoke. He also learned that drugs get "stuck on your fat," an idea embraced by Narconon -- and Scientology.
What is ...
Definition: "The study and handling of the spirit in relationship to itself, universes and other life. ... Knowing about knowing."
Benefits: "A Scientologist gains an understanding of himself spiritually, discovers his true potentials and recovers the certainty of his own immortality as a spiritual being."
The mind: Perceived as a collection of pictures, the mind is divided into two parts: the conscious "analytical mind" and the "reactive mind," which records life's painful and disturbing events. Disturbing mental pictures in the reactive mind are called "engrams" and must be removed. Once achieved, a person is considered "clear."
Thetan: Each human is a thetan, "an immortal spiritual being."
ABLE: An acronym for Association for Better Living and Education.
Heaven and hell: Scientologists believe in multiple lives through reincarnation rather than eternity in heaven or hell.
Proselytizing: "Yes. Scientologists make Scientology technology broadly available to others because they want others to receive the same gains they have experienced." The church hopes to rid the world of crime, mental illness, drug addiction, etc.
View on drugs: "Scientologists do not take street drugs or mind-altering psychiatric drugs. (They) do use prescribed drugs as part of medical programs from competent physicians.'' For more information about drugs, the Scientology text "Clear Body, Clear Mind: The Effective Purification Program" is recommended..
Spokeswoman: Actress Kirstie Alley
Definition: "Meaning no drugs. ... Narconon utilizes a completely drug- free rehabilitation program ... consists of a series of exercises, drills and study steps done in precise sequence."
Narconon's 9 steps:
-- "Drug-free withdrawal: Using 'nutrition, vitamins and care' from staff ...
-- "Therapeutic TR Course: A series of communication drills (called training routings or TRs) is used to extrovert the person and raise his ability to confront his life ...
-- "New Life Detoxification Procedure: Cleanses the body of drug residues and other toxic substances through a regimen of exercise, sauna and nutritional supplements as described in the book 'Clear Body, Clear Mind' ...
-- "Learning Improvement Course: Gains the ability to study and retain knowledge, along with the ability to recognize and overcome barriers to study . ..
-- "Communication and Perception Course: Repeats the TRs, plus additional exercises which get him into full communication with others and his environment ...
-- "Ups and Downs in Life Course: Gains the knowledge to spot and handle those influences in the environment that would cause him to lose any gains he has made ...
-- "Personal Values and Integrity Course: Gains the data (needed) to improve his survival potential. The course teaches him about the eight dynamics, ethics, honesty and integrity, showing him how to correct antisocial behavior by ridding himself of the effects of past harmful deeds ...
-- "Changing Conditions in Life Course: Covers the ethics technology of L. Ron Hubbard and shows the individual exactly how to apply it to improve conditions in his life ...
-- "Way to Happiness Course: Based on a nonsectarian moral code called 'The Way to Happiness,' this course gives the individual a guide to living a life where real happiness is attainable."
Bottom line: "Individual Scientologists and churches of Scientology have enthusiastically supported the Narconon program by providing millions of dollars worth of funding and material support."
Source: "What Is Scientology?" 1,058-page volume compiled by the Church of Scientology International.
A popular anti-drug program provided free to schools in San Francisco and elsewhere teaches concepts straight out of the Church of Scientology, including medical theories that some addiction experts described as "irresponsible" and "pseudoscience."