Narconon Granted License From State Health Agency

By Michael McNutt, Enid Bureau

Daily Oklahoman,
Tuesday, October 27, 1992

It's been described as controversial, weird, unsafe and strange, but now Narconon Chilocco New Life Center can be called licensed.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health issued a license Monday to the drug and alcohol abuse center, marking the first time since it opened for business more than two years ago that it officially can be called legal. The president of Narconon Chilocco called it a milestone.

The license issued Monday dealt with the structures and buildings making up Narconon Chilocco, located on the campus of the old Chilocco Indian school about six miles north of Newkirk. The license is good for a year and can be renewed.

The center passed an inspection last week that looked at the conditions of buildings and food and sanitary services to see that fire safety and health codes are being met, said Brent VanMeter, the health department's deputy commissioner for special health services.

Gary Smith, president of Narconon Chilocco, said plans are being made to get the center ready to accommodate as many as 75 patients at a time. "Receiving this license from the department of health signifies a milestone in our desire and original intention to supply drug and alcohol rehabilitation services to those in need," he said. "Our purpose has always been to help those with drug and alcohol problems. "We are just very excited," Smith said.

Narconon Chilocco opened in February 1990. Its critics questioned its ties with the Church of Scientology and were skeptical of its treatment plan that includes spending time in saunas and taking special vitamins and supplements.

Members of the Oklahoma State Board of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, before deciding a legal loophole allowed the center to bypass board certification, called Narconon Chilocco's treatment plan experimental and medically unsafe.

State licensing makes it easier for Narconon Chilocco or its patients to get reimbursement for its services through insurance companies. Smith said plans continue to be developed to double the size of its patient beds, but no application would be filed until after the center's census reaches and stays around 75 patients.

The center had 14 patients Monday, Smith said. Most of the patients were from various Indian tribes. Narconon Chilocco has limited treatment primarily to Indians since the mental health board voted not to certify its treatment plan last December and while various court appeals and cases were pending.

Smith said he is unsure when the center will reach capacity. Narconon Chilocco's program lasts about three months and costs $22,750. State licensing became possible after the mental health board in August granted Narconon Chilocco an exemption from certification because its program was accredited by a private agency, the Commission for Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities.

The accreditation runs through June 1993 and the exemption from mental health board certification will continue as long as Narconon Chilocco is accredited by the commission.

Newkirk Mayor Garry Bilger said a majority of residents in town still challenge the center's effectiveness and purpose.