McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

April 4, 2013

Narconon Arrowhead CEO : Why so much attention?

By Jeanne LeFlore
Staff Writer

McALESTER — Narconon Arrowhead’s CEO says he doesn’t understand why legislators are giving "so much attention" to a bill that gives the state oversight of his facility and others like it.

Narconon Arrowhead CEO Gary Smith said Wednesday his organization has no problems with Senate Bill 295.

“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,” he said in a statement.

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

The organization came under investigation after the July 19 death of Stacy Dawn Murphy, 20, of Owasso. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the Pittsburg County Sheriff's Office and the Department of Mental Health also looked into three other deaths; Hillary Holten, 21, was found dead at Narconon Arrowhead in April, and Gabriel Graves, 32, died at the facility in October, Kaysie Dianne Werninck, 28 died at a local hospital while a patient of Narconon Arrowhead in 2009.

In November, Murphy’s autopsy report revealed that she died of an accidental overdose completing the investigation. The case was handed over District 18 District Attorney Farley Ward. No criminal charges have been filed in the case.

The deaths spurred legislation to regulate facilities such as Narconon Arrowhead. In February, SB 295 passed out of the Senate unopposed.

On Tuesday an amended SB 295 was approved by the House Public Health Committee by a vote of 9 to 1. It will now go before the House for vote, and if approved, the amended version will go back before Senate, where it originated, for another vote.

In August, Sen. Tom Ivester, D-Elk City, stated he would work with officials at Oklahoma’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to author legislation aimed at “regulating questionable practices” at Narconon Arrowhead.

Ivester and Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, co-authored the bill which Murphey said was a result of the Narconon deaths.

Meanwhile Robert Murphy, the father of Stacy Murphy, said he was at the Capitol to watch the Public Health Committee vote on the bill.

“I’m happy it passed the committee,” Murphy said. “With the amendment, it’s not a home run. But I’m pleased with it.” 

Murphy said the amendment tightens restrictions and will force drug rehabilitation centers such as Narconon 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.

District 18 State Rep. Donnie Condit, D-McAlester, said he plans to vote for the bill.

“Based on what I’ve read, I will probably vote for the bill,” he said Wednesday.

The legislation could be before the House this week, Condit said.

District 17 State Rep. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester, had spoken out in August in favor of the bill but now says he will vote against it. Renegar called the bill redundant and added he had a family member go through the Narconon program.

Meanwhile, Narconon Arrowhead faces several lawsuits related to the deaths including five lawsuits filed last month alleging Narconon’s counselors traded drug for sex and other allegations. Narconon Arrowhead officials have said the lawsuits are “financially motivated and have no foundation of truth ...”

Also last month, Smith and several Narconon employees lost their certified drug counseling certification, according to Karla Taylor, president of the National Association of Forensic Counselors.

Taylor said the certifications were revoked permanently.

Contact Jeanne LeFlore at jleflore@mcalesternews.com.