By Jeanne LeFlore
A McAlester State Representative has voiced his support of Narconon and has reversed his support of a bill that will give the state oversight of the drug rehab facility.
Narconon Arrowhead is a non-profit drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Canadian that has been the subject of an ongoing investigation after three patients were found dead at the facility in less than a year.
Last August, a string of deaths and lawsuits at Narconon Arrowhead, Rep. Brian Renegar D-McAlester and Sen. Tom Ivester, D-Elk City, said they would work with officials at Oklahoma’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to author legislation aimed at “regulating questionable practices” at the facility.
Now Renegar has backed off his earlier statements and says he has a family member in the Narconon program.
The investigation of the Narconon Arrowhead organization was prompted by the July 19 death of Stacy Dawn Murphy, 20, of Owasso, by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the Pittsburg County Sheriff's Office and the mental health department.
The investigation later expanded to include three other deaths, those of Hillary Holten, 21, who was found dead at Narconon Arrowhead in April; Gabriel Graves, 32, who died at the facility in October, and Kaysie Dianne Werninck, 28, who died in 2009 while she was a patient of the facility. Werninck was not at the Arrowhead facility a the time of her death.
Soon after the deaths, Renegar issued a statement on his House of Representative website stating that he would work the House of Representatives legal staff to draft legislation to require that nonmedical treatment centers must receive oversight and certification from the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, according to okstate.gov.
According to the statement, Renegar questioned Narconon Arrowhead’s practices and it’s employees.
“Many questionable practices have come to light in the last few months that have raised serious safety concerns, not just in Narconon’s reliance of daily five-hour sauna sessions and a rigid vitamin regimen to combat withdrawals, but in the quality of their staff, which appear to be inadequately educated and trained in the care and treatment of patients with drug and alcohol addictions,” Renegar said.
Now, with legislation passing the Senate virtually unopposed, Renegar said he can’t say how he will vote on the legislation, calling it “redundant.”
He said Narconon is going through the process of certification to become approved by the state mental health board.
“I have talked to Sen. Ivester about the bill and I feel (the bill) would be redundant,” Renegar said. “By the time it becomes law, Narconon will be approved by the board.”
He said at the time he wrote the earlier statement, he was influenced by the large number of emails he received asking for him to look into the facility and since then he’s done his own investigation.
“I’ve done my own investigation and found that Narconon Arrowhead has changed it’s policies on allowing weekend passes. That’s how it happend, they went home for the weekend and brought the drugs back in and overdosed,” Renegar said.
“(Narconon) took care of that problem.”
And, since the deaths at the facility, he said a close family member of his has used the Narconon program.
“I feel comfortable enough with Narconon to send a member of my own family there,” Renegar said.
Meanwhile, State Rep. Donnie Condit. D-McAlester, said he is all for making drug rehab facilities safer and if he had to vote on the bill today, he would vote for it.
With the 46-0 passing of the legislation through the Senate, Sen. Ivester said he hopes that the legislation passes quickly through the House.
“I just want people who are using Narconon Arrowhead to be safe,” Ivester said.
Contact Jeanne LeFlore at firstname.lastname@example.org.