McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

February 2, 2008

Program suggests Americans use too many prescription drugs

By Susan Brittingham

CANADIAN — If a person isn’t suicidal, why would he take enough prescription pills to die?

“Short term memory loss,” Eric Varian, 20, said. “Taking pills destroys your short term memory, so you keep taking more and more of the medicine. You forget that you just took some a few minutes or a few hours ago.”

Could that be why actor Heath Ledger was found dead in his apartment, with no suicide note and no apparent reason to kill himself?

Varian and the other people at Narconon Arrowhead Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation and Education Center think that might be exactly what happened.

Complete toxicology reports about Ledger aren’t in yet, but the press has reported that the star of “Brokeback Mountain” and “A Knight’s Tale” had six bottles of prescription drugs in his apartment. An undisclosed number of pills were missing from the bottles.

The prescriptions in Ledger’s home, according to published reports, were: Lunesta, which is used to control insomnia; Loremtazaepam, which is sold in the United Kingdom to treat severe insomnia; Restoril, a sleep inducer; Xanax, which is used for anxiety and panic attacks; and Valium, a sedative.

Varian knows a lot about Valium and Xanax and how easy it is to forget that you took a dose a short while ago. “That’s why I’m here,” he said Wednesday. “I am a student at Narconon and I don’t take Valium anymore.

“Taking Valium wasn’t solving the inherent problem I had, which was anxiety. It was just treating the symptoms of it.”

Varian, who was a 14-year-old professional figure skater when he began taking Valium, said getting the pills from his psychiatrist was easy. So was trading pills with other teens at school. “I was zonked out in class, so I tried other things, like Klonopin,” he said, adding that it is another strong sedative.

His teen years passed in a blur. “Eventually I decided that I had to get off the pills, and I came here because they get people away from their addictions and they do it without drugs.

“My parents said they could either spend the money on me coming here, or they could spend it on my funeral. They decided to spend it to keep me alive.”

Treatment for drug or alcohol addiction at Narconon “starts at $30,000,” Cleo Glenn Johnson-McLaughlin, senior vice president, said, adding that the final cost depends upon how long a person stays there and how many phases of the program they complete.

Miss Cleo, as she is called, said “There is no free solution to getting your life back, and that’s what we do here: We give you back your life.”

When considering how much to pay to get off drugs and alcohol, Miss Cleo said to “think of how much you paid for drugs.

You didn’t care what they cost, you just paid for them and paid for them.

“Now it’s time to pay to get your health back. And here, you can get your health back. We replenish your body with the vitamins and minerals that the drugs took out of it. And then we put you in the sauna to get the drugs out of your fat cells so you won’t crave them anymore.

“God gave you a perfect body. You’re the one who put junk in it and destroyed it. We can help give it back to you — and get rid of the cravings.

“Some people think our program costs too much, but drugs aren’t free and getting off drugs isn’t free. Some people are looking for a state-funded treatment center, but nobody gets off drugs in 28 days.”

She then mentioned Varian, the 20-year-old who started taking Valium when he was 14. “Eric went to five or six rehabs and none of them worked for him. The average patient here has been to at least 10 programs, none of which worked.

“But through Narconon they get off drugs and they get their life back.”

Some former drug abusers stop taking drugs, but never lose the craving for them. It can be a daily battle. Narconon officials claim that drug residues remain indefinitely in fat cells, but that many hours in a sauna will get rid of them.

Add some calcium magnesium, which acts as a laxative and “flushes the body,” along with massive doses of vitamins and minerals, and “You are no longer a drug abuser,” Miss Cleo said. “You are not a recovering drug addict, either. You are recovered. Your body is restored and doesn’t need drugs to make it feel good anymore.

“Yesterday is yesterday.”

That drug-free, replenish the body with what it needs and be healthy and happy theory is based upon the writings of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the controversial Church of Scientology. Hubbard, who had no medical training, established the drug withdrawal program through a collaboration between himself and Arizona State Penitentiary inmate William Benitez in 1966.

Benitez called his program NARCOtics-NONe, which was shortened to Narconon. After reading “Fundamentals of Thought,” which was written by Hubbard, Benitz and Hubbard began corresponding. The program they eventually devised together is practiced in 120 locations around the world. It claims a 70 percent success rate in people who have gone at least two years without drugs after completing the program.

One of those people is 29-year-old Natalie Fraser, who completed the Narconon program two years ago and now, clear eyed and with dewy, radiant skin, she helps others get off drugs and alcohol.

“I haven’t used drugs or craved them in all that time,” she said Wednesday. “I got on drugs because I was a cheerleader in college and we had a weight limit — if we gained five pounds, we were off the team.

“So I started using meth to control my weight. Then I fell and hurt my shoulder during a routine and started taking a prescription drug with codeine.

“Lortab became my new best friend. But after graduation, I realized that if I was going to get a corporate job, I would have to take a drug test.”

By this time her shoulder pain was gone and she had no legitimate reason to test positive for pain pills. “So I started thinking, ‘What can I get that will be legal, from a doctor?’ That’s when I started faking panic attacks.

“That medicine had me nodding me out all the time and I couldn’t remember things. That’s when I decided I needed treatment, and I came here.

“I used to live in a world of lies, and now I don’t.”

There are a variety of programs for people seeking to end their addictions to drugs or alcohol. Narconon can be reached at 339-5800 or www.stopaddiction.com.

Some programs operate on a sliding scale, some are free, and some cost. Check with your insurance plan to see if it covers drug or alcohol addiction services.

The Oaks Rehabilitative Center, Seventh and Creek, can be reached at 423-6030. Carl Albert Mental Health Center, 1101 E. Monroe Ave., 426-7800, offers both individual and group counseling.

The District 18 Drug Court offers qualified non-drug traffickers the option of staying off drugs and out of prison. They are at 118 E. Carl Albert Pkwy., 423-7323.

Contact Susan Brittingham at 421-2029 or e-mail sbrittingham@mcalesternews.com.