McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

April 17, 2013

Bill regulating Narconon Arrowhead one step closer to Governor's desk

By Jeanne LeFlore
Staff Writer

McALESTER —  Legislation to regulate Narconon Arrowhead and other drug rehabs passed the House on Monday.

The bill is now headed to the Senate for one more vote before it hits the governor’s desk, according to state officials.

The final vote could happen within the next few weeks, legislators say.

Senate bill 295 was co-authored by a Senate Democrat and a House Republican soon after an investigation into several deaths at Narconon Arrowhead.

Narconon Arrowhead is a non-profit drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Canadian affiliated with the Church of Scientology.

Narconon Arrowhead has faced a number of lawsuits and was under a multi-agency investigation since the July death of Stacy Dawn Murphy, 20, of Owasso.

The case was by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the Pittsburg County Sheriff's Office and the Department of Mental Health.

Since her death, the investigation expanded into the 2012 deaths of two others found dead at the facility. All three deaths occurred within months of each other.

Hillary Holten, 21, was found dead in April of 2012 and Gabriel Graves, 32, was found dead at the facility in October of 2011.

Also under investigation is the 2009 death of Kaysie Dianne Werninck, 28.

Werninck died at a local hospital while a patient of Narconon Arrowhead.

Although no charges have been filed in the investigation, Dist. 18 District Attorney Farley Ward said the case is still under review.

Narconon Arrowhead has faced numerous lawsuits with allegations such as wrongful death and employees trading drugs for sex with patients.

Then in March, the National Association of Forensic Counselors permanently revoked the Certified Chemical Dependency Counseling certification of CEO Gary Smith and several Narconon Arrowhead employees, according to Karla Taylor president of NAFC.

Meanwhile, SB295 was started in August soon after the investigaiton into the deaths.

State Sen. Tom Ivester D-Sayer said he would to work with officials at Oklahoma’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to create legislation regulating questionable practices at Narconon Arrowhead.

Sen. Ivester then co-authored the SB295 with Rep. Jason Murphey R-Guthrie.

On Monday, Ivester said the House passed the bill with amendments so it must now go before the Senate for one last vote. 

The bill passed the Senate unopposed in February. Earlier this month the legislation passed the House Public Health Committee 9 to 1 with an amendment.

On Monday the amended legislation passed the house passed the House 80 to 13. It is now set go before the Senate one last time before it's presented to Gov. Mary Fallin for signing.

Meanwhile Representative Jason Murphey said Monday that he feels confident the bill will be passed.

“I have no doubts about it,” Murphey said.

 “It’s been months, and I feel there is a real sense of urgency in getting this passed.”

Robert Murphy is the father of Stacy Murphy. He said he has been following the bill since its inception.

Murphy said the amendments will tighten restrictions and will force drug rehabilitation centers to be more up front about its ties to religious organizations.

“It basically makes them reveal who they are, who supports them, and who their entities are,” Murphy said.

Earlier this month Narconon Arrowhead CEO Gary Smith issued a statement regarding the legislation.

“We have no problem with SB295. However, we do not understand the amount of legislative attention that has been spent on (the bill) when you consider the number of critical issues facing Oklahomans that require legislative solutions,” Smith said in the statement.

If the bill passes the Senate and is signed by  Gov. Fallin, it will become law in November.

Contact Jeanne LeFlore at jleflore@mcalesternews.com.