Narconon may lose license for drug treatment

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/December 26, 2012

The state Department of Community Health has notified Narconon of Georgia it intends to revoke the clinic's license for misrepresenting itself as a residential drug treatment facility.

The action came after the department's latest probe of the Norcross treatment center, the fourth so far this year. In its findings, DCH said that its review of court records from a DeKalb County lawsuit revealed sworn statements from the facility's executive director confirming that it was knowingly operating as a residential program when licensed only for outpatient services.

An out-of-state drug court manager was also led to believe that the residential services included 24-hour supervision, and the false information harmed the "health and well-being" of the client the court was placing, according to the findings, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution under an Open Records Request. That client died after a drug overdose.

Barbara Marschalk, attorney for Narconon of Georgia, said her client has requested a hearing, as allowed by state law.

"Narconon of Georgia strongly disagrees with the findings mentrioned in the department's correspondence and corresponding survey report and plans to vigorously oppose any efforts to revoke its license," Marschalk said Wednesday in a statement. "Narconon of Georgia plans to take all steps allowed under Georgia law to respond to and oppose any sanctions against it as they are unfounded and unwarranted and appear to be based solely on disputed documents produced in connection with an ongoing and very contentious civil lawsuit against it related to events that occurred more than four years ago."

Parents of former patient Patrick Desmond filed the lawsuit in 2010, accusing Narconon of Georgia of duping them and Florida drug court manager Lisa Mooty into believing that he had been appropriately placed in a residential program, as mandated by a judge.

Following numerous complaints that Narconon of Georgia was operating or controlling a residential facility for clients, the state has conducted at least 11 probes since 2002.

The three earlier complaint investigations this year did not substantiate that the facility was offering unlicensed residential treatment. "While client interviews confirmed that the facility was a residential program, there was conflicting documentation including records of an acknowledgement form, signed by the clients stating that the facility was not a residential program," the latest investigation, conducted Nov. 13, states.

The department declined comment on its latest investigation, saying it is still processing Narconon of Georgia's response.

DCH Director David Cook said in October the state can't sanction Narconon on the false claims alone.

"There's a distinction between running a residential treatment facility and holding oneself out as a residential treatment facility," Cook said. "The violation would be actually running a residential treatment facility."

The Desmond lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial Feb. 11. "The amount of smoke has clearly indicated there is a fire," said attorney Jeff Harris, who represents Desmond's parents in the wrongful death suit.

The case has been a cause celebre nationally for critics of the Church of Scientology. Narconon says its treatment is informed by the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, who founded Scientology.

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