Narconon has aroused particular controversy and concern by its practice of seeking public money to fund its programmes. In itself, this is of course nothing unusual for bodies concerned with social welfare. However, serious concerns are raised by the undeniable though frequently unacknowledged organisational and doctrinal links with Scientology (see "What is the Narconon therapy programme?" and "Is Narconon controlled by Scientology?"), and by the lack of hard evidence for its effectiveness. In countries where state sponsorship of religions is banned (notably in the US), state funding of Narconon potentially raises legal issues; more generally, good governance demands that taxpayers' money is well spent and does not go to waste on unproven and unscientific theories.
Nonetheless, states in the US and Europe have provided substantial funding to Narconon, though this has often been restricted or withdrawn when Narconon's failings are made public.
Narconon is the only "Scientology-related entity" to have gained charitable status in the United Kingdom. No UK national or local government agency is known to have contacts with Narconon, which has its headquarters at the UK's main Scientology HQ in Saint Hill, East Grinstead and a subsidiary branch at Dover, Kent. The organisation otherwise appears to be fairly quiescent.
The London borough of Tower Hamlets sent an alcoholic woman to a Narconon course in Tunbridge Wells, Kent in March 1994 but the contract was cancelled after the Scientology link was discovered; as usual, it had not been mentioned by Narconon. (See "Storm over cult's alcoholic patient", The Independent, 31 May 1994.) Soon afterwards, East Sussex County Council issued specific guidance to schools requesting them to exercise caution in any dealings with Narconon and inform the Council prior to making any specific arrangements.
In 1997, Narconon attempted to buy a disused building in the North Yorkshire village of Burton Leonard. According to The Independent newspaper, it was using the name (pseudonym?) of "Addiction Recovery Training Service" or ARTS. The Charity Commission has no record of ARTS, nor is this body mentioned in the Commission's file on Narconon, nor is it in the national register of companies; it remains somewhat mysterious. However, the bid failed when concerned locals banded together to buy the building for the village, and to judge from Narconon International's web site at http://www.narconon.org, the organisation has yet to gain any new UK facilities. The press were quick to point out Narconon/ARTS' links with Scientology. A Narconon/ARTS spokesman denied any connection to the Daily Mail, saying, "We've even been accused of belonging to the Church of Scientology. It's just not true," which rather contradicts the statement of the Church of Scientology to The Guardian that "The training service is one of our sections."
Narconon's sole branch in Ireland, based in Dublin, is reportedly the subject of an investigation by the Irish Department of Health following complaints by "concerned cult watchers". As the complaints appear to centre upon the links between Narconon and Scientology rather than its effectiveness (or lack of), it is not clear whether the Irish Government would have any grounds to restrict its activities. (See "Cult Watchers Focus Sights on Drug Centre", The Mirror, 3 October 1997).
Sweden, Switzerland, Holland, Denmark, Italy and Germany
According to John Duff, President of Narconon International:
However, no specific programs or agencies have been named.
Narconon has suffered some significant setbacks in Germany. In Stuttgart in 1993, an application for a tax rebate was rejected by the Verwaltungsgerichtshof (administrative appeals court), which found that
Narconon suffered considerable embarassment in Sweden in April 1998, when it was disclosed that the Church of Scientology had been distributing a promotional video including footage of King Carl XVI Gustaf, with a voice-over saying: "Even His Highness King Carl Gustaf has realized that Sweden has a solution for drug abuse. It is called Narconon." Sweden was presented as a country swamped with drug addicts and suffering the highest rate of theft in the world. The footage turned out to be a decade old, and a spokeswoman for the Court stated: "The Royal Couple does not support this organization in any way. We have made contact with Scientology and demanded that the segment with the Royal Couple be edited out." The affair made headlines across Scandinavia and in Germany.
Narconon has also tried to establish itself in Belgium, though it has encountered resistance from parliamentarians and other drug rehabilitation groups. A 1997 Belgian Parliamentary Enquiry reported the following:
Spain has taken drastic action against Narconon. In 1988 an international convention of Scientologists was raided in Madrid on the orders of Judge of Instruction Jose Maria Vazquez Honrubia. All 72 foreign Scientologists in attendance were arrested, along with a number of Spanish members. The most notable of those arrested was the "Reverend" Heber Jentzsch, President of the Church of Scientology International. The arrests followed an investigation into Narconon which, according to the judge, had "swindled its clients and lured them into Scientology." The Spanish authorities froze $1.76 million in Scientology and Narconon bank accounts; 11 Scientologists, including Jentzsch, were kept in jail; 61 were released, 12 of whom were deported. Jentzsch was jailed for a further three weeks before being bailed for $1.1m, but had his passport confiscated and was confined to Spain for a further three months. In 1991, the National Court found no evidence of fraud or financial crimes and sent the case back to the local Madrid Court. In 1994, a new Judge of Instruction remanded 21 people for trial, including Jentzsch, on charges not concerning specific incidents or conduct linked to named individuals. The trial has since not materialised and Jentzsch is not known to have returned to Spain since his release.
The Russian Ministry of Public Health and Medical Industry initially was quite favourable towards Narconon. On 5 August 1994, V.K. Agapov, the Deputy Minister of Public Health and the Medical Industry, ratified a set of "Recommendations of the techniques of the 'Detoxification Program'". Narconon expanded its activities in the Russian Federation on the back of the Minister's public support, establishing a full-scale residential centre in Moscow in 1994. On 19 June 1996, state support was withdrawn by A. D. Tsaregorodtsev, the Minister of Public Health and the Medical Industry, "in order to bring the basic standards of the Ministry of Public Health and the Medical Industry into conformity with the current legislation" and "the propagation and use [in the public health system] of the techniques of detoxification and other techniques of Scientology and Dianetics arising from the teaching of R. Hubbard" was banned outright. Curiously, Narconon Russia's web page (which can be found at http://www.narconon.org/html/30thanni/html/russia.htm) makes no mention of this sequence of events.
The United States is the original home of Narconon - it was founded in 1965 by convict William Benitez during his internment in the Arizona State Prison. Narconon is recognised as tax-exempt in the United States, interestingly being defined in the secret 1993 IRS-Scientology tax exemption agreement as being a "Scientology-related entity" despite all the public statements to the contrary. A number of US states and Federal government agencies have funded Narconon programs. Some have been highly successful, at least in terms of raising revenue. Federal income tax records show Narconon, Massachusetts (a public benefit non-profit corporation) earned $715,771 from school lectures alone in the period between 1989 and 1994. This, according to Narconon's Research Director, Shelley Beckmann, resulted in 475,000 New England students receiving drug education lectures in New England costing $1.51 per student. However, several Narconon programs have been terminated following adverse media reports on the link with Scientology.
A particularly ferocious controversy erupted in northern Oklahoma between 1989-1992, when Narconon announced plans to open a massive 1,000-bed facility in the small town of Chilocco. When the local newspaper uncovered Narconon's links to Scientology and began asking awkward questions, Narconon's president's considered response was to state that "there will be those that will not want Narconon to succeed at Chilocco because they are for drugs and are on the other side in the battle against drugs." A highly criticial report on Narconon was produced in 1991 by the Oklahoma State Board of Mental Health, declaring Narconon to be "unsafe" and "ineffective". However, in 1992 (and following a lengthy series of lawsuits by Narconon), the Board decided to exempt the Chilocco facility from a requirement to be certified by the state - without withdrawing its earlier condemnations of the treatment regime. The Chilocco facility continues in existence but appears to have fallen far short of its initial objectives of treating hundreds at one go. According to an Oklahoma Health Department report of August 25, 1997, it is now licensed as a 75 bed treatment facility.
According to recent reports on the alt.religion.scientology newsgroup, the state of Utah is currently providing funding for Narconon programmes.
(See the Narconon Timeline for the rise and repeated fall of Narconon programs in the US.)
Narconon is tax-exempt in Canada, and also reportedly operates in Mexico and South America.