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May 7, 2013

'Stacy's Bill' heads to Gov.'s desk

Legislation spurred by deaths to regulate drug rehabs passes Okla. Senate

McALESTER — Legislation regulating Narconon Arrowhead and other drug rehabs is headed to the governor’s desk and could be signed into law this month.

On Wednesday, Senate Bill 295 co-authored by a Senate Democrat Tom Ivester D- Sayer and House Republican Jason Murphey R-Guthrie passed the Senate unopposed with the final vote at 43-0.

The legislation was written after an investigation into a string of deaths that happened within months of each other at Narconon Arrowhead.

Narconon Arrowhead is a non-profit drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Canadian that uses the teachings of Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

The bill originally passed the Senate unopposed in February. Then in April the legislation passed the House Public Health Committee 9 to 1 with an amendment, the amended legislation went on to pass the House 80 to 13. The final Senate vote was Wednesday. It is now headed to Gov. Mary Fallins desk.

Wednesday, Ivester said he wrote the bill because of the deaths at Narconon Arrowhead.

 “It was the repeated deaths, that’s what did it for me,” Ivester said.

“That, and that nothing was being done legislatively about it.”

He said the legislation will force drug rehabs such as Narconon Arrowhead to be certified by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Heath and Substance Abuse, giving the state oversight over such facilities.

Narconon Arrowhead under a multi-agency investigation since the July death of Stacy Dawn Murphy, 20, of Owasso.

On Wednesday her father Robert Murphy was at the Capitol watching the Senate as the SB295 passed unopposed.

“I call it Stacy’s Bill and I’m happy it passed unopposed,” he said.

“It’s a great day.”

“It’s a great that it passed,” he said. “It’s a great day.”

After Stacy Murphy was found dead at Narconon Arrowhead in July 21, the case was investigated by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the Pittsburg County Sheriff's Office and the Department of Mental Health.

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

In 2012, two months before Stacy Murphy was found dead, Hillary Holten, 21, was found dead in April, and Gabriel Graves, 32, was found dead at the facility in October of 2011.

Also under investigation was 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 also numerous lawsuits with allegations such as wrongful death and employees trading drugs for sex with patients.

Earlier this year 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 a former Narconon Arrowhead president said Narconon Arrowhead needs the oversight by the state and the amendment tightening restrictions and forcing drug rehabilitation centers to be more up front about its ties to religious organizations is good news for people entering the Narconon program.

Lucas Catton, a former Scientologist, said he was president of Narconon Arrowhead for more than five years.

Catton said he left Scientology in 2011 after he began to question some of organization’s activities and was told to “fall back in line.”

 He said hopes the legislation will send the Narconon organization a message.

 “I think it shows that the people of Oklahoma won’t put up with what’s going on there.” Catton said.

“Narconon will have to play by the same rules as other facilities.”

“If the bill does what is designed to do, it will force Narconon to have to play by the same rules as other drug rehabs and it will force them to be honest and truthful about who they are and what they do.”

In April 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.

Sen. Ivester said Wednesday the legislation could be signed by Gov. Fallin in the next few weeks. If signed, SB295 would become law in November.

Contact Jeanne LeFlore at jleflore@mcalesternews.com.

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