Liam Fay gives a very objective assessment of the Narconon cure.

Scientology drug addiction ‘cure’ is wishful thinking

Dialogue Ireland: ~ “This is not a secular programme as claimed by the Scientologists but another form of their ideological brainwashing techniques.”

The benefits of science and medicine are obvious, but half-truths are still flourishing


“The lure of the quick fix is the essence of drug addiction. Instant gratification and speedy release from the rigours of grey, sober reality are central to the thrill of getting high. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that many substance abusers who want to kick their habits are particularly susceptible to the myth of the miracle cure, the easy way out.

Narconon, a “drug detox programme” linked to the Church of Scientology, appears to offer the rehab equivalent of a quick fix. Sauna sessions and vitamin pills are key features of a promised shortcut to recovery that sounds remarkably stress-free and painless. Advocates for the programme claim that it has a success rate of 75 per cent, almost 50 per cent greater than conventional rehab options.

When a commercial proposition seems too good to be true it usually is. There is no verifiable evidence that the Narconon programme is an effective treatment for drug addicts but there is considerable evidence to suggest that some of the techniques involved are dangerous.

Scientology and its self-styled role as a healthcare provider are in the news because of mounting protests among residents of Ballivor, Co Meath, over plans to open a Narconon centre in the village. A redeveloped building, on the site of an old national school, was purchased by the Narconon Trust last year. The rehab facility is scheduled to open in May.

Locals are understandably alarmed by the prospect of a Scientology-linked operation setting up shop in their midst. Ballivor has a population of about 1,700. Scientology is a wealthy, powerful and, to put it mildly, controversial organisation.

The Church of Scientology was founded in the 1950s by L Ron Hubbard, a Nebraskan pulp-fiction writer who regarded himself as a scientific pioneer. All religions make supernatural claims, most of which are self-evidently absurd, and there is a distinct whiff of hypocrisy about much of the derision aimed at Hubbard’s teachings by adherents to other faiths. Nevertheless, there’s no denying that the so-called “cosmology” of Scientology was heavily influenced by its founder’s infatuation with cornball sci-fi.

Hubbard taught his followers that humans contain “a thetan” — an immortal being from a distant planet. After creating the universe, thetans accidentally became trapped in earthbound physical bodies. Thankfully, through a series of “audits” and other services available from Scientology Inc, we can restore the eternal, omnipotent powers of the thetan within. All you have to do is pay through the nose, and keep paying. Scientology presents itself as a technology for living, a step-by-step scientific process that will help you overcome your limitations and realise your potential for greatness.

The methods deployed by Narconon are based on the Purification Rundown (also known as Purif), a programme invented by Hubbard to eliminate body toxins that form “a biochemical barrier to spiritual wellbeing”. Its techniques include sweating in a sauna for up to eight hours a day, an intensive exercise regime and the ingestion of enormous quantities of vitamin supplements for several weeks.

The megadoses of vitamins, especially niacin, are the programme’s most contentious feature. In large quantities, niacin can cause liver damage but it will also stimulate the skin to flush and create a tingling sensation. Scientologists say these symptoms are evidence of toxins being purged from the body.

The programme is big business. Based in Hollywood, Narconon operates several dozen residential centres, chiefly in the US. There are, as yet, no indications of a price list for a stay at the Ballivor facility but we know it won’t be cheap. In the US the Purif programme costs more than $5,000 and Narconon treatment costs considerably more.

One of the chief sources of anger among the inhabitants of Ballivor and its environs is the lack of public consultation. Locals say they knew nothing about plans to turn the former school into a Narconon outlet until October when word leaked out about the identity of the new owners.

There is also widespread dismay at the discovery that Ireland has no legislation governing the regulation of private addiction treatment centres. The Department of Health says that the Narconon programme has “limited or no basis” in the science of human physiology. Yet like any other enterprise of its kind the Ballivor centre will be free to operate without supervision from the authorities.

Protesters in Ballivor have pledged to step up their campaign in the coming weeks. However, there are wider issues here for the rest of us. The proposed Narconon facility in the Meath village is just the latest development in what appears to be a significant expansion by the Irish branch of Scientology.

Last year, the organisation opened a plush new facility at Firhouse, southwest Dublin, which includes a 1,100-seat auditorium. In 2016 it established a “national affairs office” at Merrion Square in the city centre, the first such office outside the US.

Scientology bosses are clearly convinced that there is a growing market in this country for their doctrines and the therapies that come with them. It’s an assessment that seems well-founded.

We are living in strange times. This is an era in which the benefits of mainstream science and medicine have never been more obvious. Yet it’s also an era of growing resistance to scientific principles and disdain for scientists. The blurring of the distinction between news and conspiracy theory, fact and assertion, has fostered an environment in which all manner of charlatanism, half-truths and bogus science can flourish as never before.

We might like to think we live in a rational age. In truth, however, the myth of the miracle cure still endures.”

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