McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

Police/Courts

May 1, 2013

Bill regulating Narconon Arrowhead headed to Gov. Fallins desk

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

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 a the final vote at 43-0.

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

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

The bill orginally 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 today, now it will be presented to Gov. Mary Fallin for signing.

Today Ivester said he wrote the bill because of the number of deaths.

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

 "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 state will have oversight of the facility.

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.

 After Murphy’s 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, an amendment added to SB295 will tighten restrictions and will force drug rehabilitation centers to be more up front about its ties to religious organizations.

Former Narconon President Lucas Catton recently spoke out on national television against the organization and it’s ties to the Church of Scientology.

Catton said he hopes the legislation will send the Narconon organization a message.

“If the bill does what is designed to do, it will force Narconon 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.

Ivester said the legislation could be signed by Gov. Fallin in the next weeks and become law in November.

Contact Jeanne LeFlore at jleflore@mcalesternews.com.

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