Loophole Lets Rehab Center Slide Under Radar

CBS KLAS-TV 8 News, Las Vegas/October 31, 2012

Caliente, Nevada - An unlicensed drug rehabilitation facility with ties to the Church of Scientology is doing business in Nevada.

Former patients and employees of Narconon said the center is forcing those who check into the center to try and lift ashtrays with their minds, among other controversial practices.

The I-Team has investigated Narconon for the past three years.

The investigation began when parents came to the I-Team concerned they sent loved ones to a drug rehab center that made their conditions worse.

During the investigation, a loophole in Nevada's inspection laws was uncovered.

From sweating out alien spirits to lifting objects with the mind, what happens at the drug rehab center is far from scientifically accepted.

Justin Vandergriend went to Narconon for opiate addiction.

"Ashtray, stand up. Ashtray, sit down. Move to the left, move to the right," said Vandergriend of his therapy. "There was times you had to scream at it and try to get your inner demons."

Narconon is located in Caliente, 150 miles North of Las Vegas.

Caliente is one of those towns where people don't talk on camera about one of their largest employers, just down the street.

Narconon course material was written by Scientology religion founder L. Ron Hubbard.

According to Hubbard's 1968 writings, scientology aims to rid people of infesting alien spirits left behind after a 75 million year old galactic civil war.

The Vandergriend family and many others talking to the I-Team said nobody told them Narconon was connected to Scientology and said they have no doubts why Justin relapsed after attending Narconon.

"They don't even have a certified doctor, a certified nurse," said Justin Vandergriend's father, Dave. "They don't have anybody."

The I-Team checked state databases and found that none of the Narconon employees identified had any Nevada medical licenses or certification for drug counseling or rehab services.

The I-Team tried asking them in person, including executive director Will Williams, but interview requests were repeatedly declined.

Narconon sent the I-Team a promotional information packet, complete with the claim their program has a 76 percent success rate.

David Marlon, who runs the highly accredited Solutions Recovery Center" in Las Vegas, said Narconon's success claims appear to be empty marketing.

"Half our clients do relapse," Marlon said. "After they come out of treatment, they do use again."

Marlon's success rate is widely accepted as above the national average.

Former patients and employees claim the simple qualification to become a Narconon counselor is to graduate from their program.

"They wanted me to stay on board and counsel the new kids coming in," Justin Vandergriend said. "Along with seeking out other individuals, families that need this. I would get $1,000 a head."

John Anchondo, who was treated for alcoholism at Narconon, became a salesman for the program after his graduation from the program.

He said he never saw a state inspector visit the center.

"Hell, no," he said. "They can get away with anything they want to up there."

Narconon has no state oversight because they do not accept state money.

Nevada law states anybody can start a drug rehab center with no license, as long as no public money is used.

Nearly every other drug rehab facility other than Narconon must undergo strict state inspection.

"One does annual spot audits where they show up at one of our facilities, they get all the information on all our employees, they get all the information on all of our patients, they carefully inspect the home, they carefully inspect our facility," Marlon said. "I just went through a detox audit where they have checklist that's more than 10 pages.

"I wonder if their success rate is collecting the money."

Dave Vandergriend said families should visit any rehabilitation center they are considering sending someone.

"You do the research first, not on the Internet," he said. "Go see it."

Anchondo speaks more strongly about his former employer.

"I would say, get them out of there," he said. "It's a cult."

At $35,000, Narconon is one of the most expensive drug rehab programs in the western states.

The literature Narconon gives parents promises to save people's lives, but former patients and employees continue claiming that Narconon indoctrinates its patients into a religion they never expected.

Nevada's Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Agency said they have written a bill they may introduce to state lawmakers next session.

The bill aims to close the so-called licensing loophole and would force Narconon to allow state inspectors into their facility.

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