Controversial drug treatment center moving
July 1, 2001
NEWKIRK -- In 1989, Newkirk residents prepared for a battle to stop the establishment of a drug and alcohol treatment program north of their town.
It was an often bitter fight through the court system that lasted almost three years. Then, Narconon International received its certification in 1992 to establish a treatment center six miles north of Newkirk leased from five Indian tribes.
Now, Narconon is closing its Newkirk branch in favor of combining the entire treatment site at Arrowhead Lodge near Canadian in Pittsburg County. The center is expected to open in the next couple of months.
The Narconon Chilocco New Life Center began accepting patients in 1990 under the premise that it didn't need state certification, since the site near Newkirk was on tribal land.
Residents heard stories that the center would have 1,000 beds and that the treatment used was one developed by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology. Some residents helped the few clients who wandered into Newkirk wanting to leave Narconon. There were stories about what some thought was an unorthodox treatment using vitamins and saunas.
Things have quieted since then in the Kay County community of 2,200 people. The fear that the drug treatment center would become a recruiting machine for Scientology seems to be gone. For the most part, residents have put Narconon out of mind, said Mayor Carol Purdy.
"They haven't ever bothered anybody," she said. "It seems like they try to stay to themselves. We forget they're there unless we see the sign."
Although Narconon uses Hubbard's techniques and received donations from the church, it isn't and never was intended to be a recruiting tool for the church, said Gary Smith, executive director.
"Here it's 11 years later, and we're still Narconon," he said.
Smith said the organization is simply a group of people who have dedicated their lives to saving people.
Narconon originally was licensed for 75 beds, but the State Department of Health increased that to 105.
"We've been at capacity since then," Smith said.
Narconon has had 2,029 clients since it opened the Chilocco site. Of those, 199 Indians have gone through a special program at no cost, Smith said.
Non-Indian clients pay a flat fee of $17,000 to $20,000 for a stay of three months to a year. Last year, 352 students enrolled and 185 completed the program, Smith said. Thus far this year, 350 entered and 189 have graduated.
In the last study of clients who completed the program two years ago, 70 to 74 percent were still off drugs, Smith said.
Smith said renovation of the historic buildings at the Newkirk site, which once was the Chilocco Indian School, became too costly. By moving to Arrowhead, the organization can expand at a lower cost.
The organization also renegotiated its lease with the Kaw, Ponca, Otoe- Missouria, Tonkawa and Pawnee tribes a year ago and must leave Chilocco within three years of that date.
When the Association for Better Living and Education, which has the rights to all of Hubbard's teachings, bought the Arrowhead Lodge for Narconon last summer, another fight loomed.
Residents of nearby Canadian and Arrowhead Estates, a housing addition less than a mile away, circulated petitions against the drug treatment facility.
Mike Hall, who said he had 250 names on a petition against Narconon, said he doesn't believe Arrowhead is the proper place for the drug treatment center.
"I don't feel that it's good for our development. I don't feel it's good for the state," he said.
Hall also said he doesn't think the treatment is safe because of concerns medical professionals have expressed.
But Narconon also submitted a petition and gathered 437 signatures of support to submit to the health department. A recent petition in favor of Narconon had 2,000 signatures, Smith said.
The organization received a certificate last summer authorizing it to have 75 beds at the lodge, but Smith said he is working to increase that to 230.
Canadian Mayor Danny Arterberry said some residents were concerned or curious in the beginning, but Narconon officials have proven they will benefit the community.
"They try to get involved in the community as much as they can," he said.
"They kind of put (suspicions) at ease. They're just like the rest (of us)."
Arterberry said Narconon employees have kept city officials informed on lodge renovation progress and leaders are glad to have them as part of the community.
"It's nice to know the lodge is still being utilized," he said. "It's starting to shine again."