Antidrug program with Scientology links to be investigated

Associated Press/June 18, 2004

San Francisco -- California's schools superintendent has ordered an investigation into a school antidrug program with ties to the Church of Scientology.

The popular program, called Narconon Drug Prevention and Education, has been used by schools nationwide for the past two decades. Hollywood-based Narconon has provided instruction in at least 20 school districts in California, including San Francisco and Los Angeles. Many teachers and students have praised the program.

But leading drug addiction experts say some of Narconon's medical theories are irresponsible and have no basis in fact. For example, the program teaches that drugs accumulate in body fat and can cause drug cravings and flashbacks for years; that saunas can sweat drugs out of the body; and that colored ooze is released when drugs leave the body.

Superintendent Jack O'Connell said he learned about the antidrug program when the San Francisco Chronicle published articles in early June that detailed links between Narconon's instruction and the Church of Scientology's religious teachings.

O'Connell said Wednesday that the state's investigation could lead to an order barring Narconon from providing instruction in California schools.

"We have an obligation to inform school districts of potentially inaccurate and misleading information being distributed," O'Connell said.

Narconon officials defended the scientific accuracy of its medical claims. They acknowledge that Scientologists support the program and that Narconon administrators and lecturers are scientologists. But they insist the program is legally and financially separate from the Church of Scientology.

More than 5,400 students in San Francisco received Narconon instruction last year, according to Narconon's promotional materials.

Last week, San Francisco schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman told Narconon to revise parts of its curriculum by June 24 or be banned from the district. Narconon officials said they are working to answer the district's questions.

Los Angeles Unified is the largest school district in the state to host Narconon education. A district spokeswoman said the program was being reviewed by the district's health department, while the president of the district's teachers union expressed concern.

"We're not interested in thinly disguised religion being put upon the students," said John Perez said. "The schools are a secular institution, and there has to be a wall of separation between religion and public schools."

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