Jeannette McHenry took out a bank loan and borrowed money from family to help come up with the $27,000 to send her son to Narconon Louisiana New Life Retreat, a residential drug rehabilitation program in Denham Springs.
What her son got instead of substance abuse counseling, McHenry claims in a lawsuit filed in Baton Rouge federal court, is heavy indoctrination into the Church of Scientology.
McHenry, of Washington state, alleges in the suit that the Narconon program is merely a Scientology recruiting tool.
Narconon “used a ‘bait and switch’ scheme whereby (it) promised (McHenry) extensive substance abuse counseling for her son and then delivered only Scientology teaching and dangerous Scientology rituals,” McHenry alleges in the suit.
One of the allegedly dangerous rituals, McHenry contends, is a sauna program that a New Life Retreat official told her had been scientifically shown to reduce or eliminate an addict’s drug cravings by flushing out residual drug toxins stored in the addict’s fatty tissues.
“No such scientific evidence exists,” the suit maintains. “NLR’s claims about the benefits of its sauna program ... are false and do not withstand scientific scrutiny.”
McHenry’s son spent up to five hours a day in the sauna at temperatures between 160 degrees and 180 degrees, the suit states, and no medical personnel oversaw him while he was undergoing the sauna program last year.
Material on Narconon International’s website states that the detoxification program, which includes the sauna program, is carefully supervised. The online material says tens of thousands of people have successfully completed the full drug rehabilitation program.
The McHenry suit’s defendants include Narconon Louisiana New Life Retreat and the nonprofit Narconon International.
Narconon International, which is based in Los Angeles, and Narconon Louisiana New Life Retreat did not return messages seeking comment on McHenry’s allegations.
Plaquemine lawyer Patrick Pendley, one of McHenry’s attorneys, said her suit is one of many that have been filed around the country against Narconon entities.
“Narconon preys upon people experiencing Ms. McHenry’s desperation to do something, anything to pull a loved one out of destructive addictive behavior,” Pendley said Friday. “We are trying to shine the public spotlight on these fraudulent programs that do more harm than good to the patient.”
The suit, filed Monday, seeks damages and a court order prohibiting the defendants “from further engaging in deceptive trade practices.” Those practices, McHenry alleges, are “immoral, unethical, oppressive, unscrupulous, and substantially injurious to consumers.”
Narconon is not part of the Church of Scientology, but the research of the late Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard does form the basis of the Narconon program, according to Narconon International’s website. In 1976, Hubbard gave Narconon the right to use his copyrighted works for drug rehabilitation purposes.
Messages left at the Church of Scientology International in Los Angeles also were not returned.
The Narconon program is secular, teaches no dogma and does not require a person to convert to a faith, the online material states.
The drug rehabilitation program consists of a drug-free withdrawal, detoxification and a series of life-skills courses to help recovering addicts overcome their addiction and learn how to solve their problems without drugs. It generally takes three to five months to complete the program.
The Narconon network consists of more than 120 rehabilitation and drug prevention centers around the world, including the Denham Springs facility.
McHenry, who claims no one at NLR ever spoke to her son about the specifics of his life or substance abuse issues, says each patient undergoing the Narconon program receives the same eight course books based on Hubbard’s work.
In place of “actual addiction treatment,” her suit alleges, NLR had her son study and practice Scientology.
“NLR is using the Narconon program to introduce Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard’s ‘technology’ to unwitting patients seeking drug rehabilitation,” the suit charges.
NLR had her son perform drills, known as “training routines,” which come straight from Scientology scripture and have no apparent connection to substance abuse treatment, McHenry contends.
In one of those drills, she alleges, NLR had her son sit with another patient and repeatedly ask the other patient, “Do fish swim?” for hours on end.
The Narconon New Life Retreat website says New Life Retreat utilizes a unique program designed to handle the underlying causes of addiction. The program uses licensed and certified medical and clinical personnel to deliver “one of the most successful programs in the country,” the site states.
“The program begins with a drug-free withdrawal where our trained staff support this early phase of recovery with nutritional support and specialized hands-on techniques which alleviate the majority of withdrawal symptoms. Participants are supervised 24 hours a day until they have stabilized and are able to continue with the remainder of the program. The licensed medical director and nursing staff are always on call, and safety is a top priority.”
Hubbard, a science fiction writer, founded Scientology in the 1950s. It teaches followers they are immortal spiritual beings, or thetans, who live on after death. The church says there is a supreme being, but its practices do not include the worship of a god.