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Friday 29 September 2023 Dublin: 11°C
A screengrab from Narconon's official webpage.
# Explainer
Saunas and high vitamin doses: The discredited Scientology-backed drug rehab programme slated for Meath
There have been a number of protests against Scientology’s presence in Ireland.

LAST MONTH, REPORTS emerged that a drug rehabilitation clinic linked to the Church of Scientology could open in the Meath village of Ballivor.

The centre, which could feature the Narconon programme, is believed to be slated for development on the site of a former national school.

Last year, broke the news that a new Scientology community centre was opening in Firhouse and that there had been plans to bring a number of the church-backed initiatives (such as Narconon) to Ireland.

There have been local concerns that the rehab facility will open in Westmeath in the coming months.

Over 200 people protested to express their concerns over the reported plans in Ballivor this week. 

But what is Narconon and why are locals so concerned? 

According to its official website, Narconon “uses unique rehabilitation technology that gets to the problem at its source and provides a path for long-term success”.

But their methods have proven controversial.

Their drug detoxification programme uses high doses of vitamins along with long periods in dry saunas which it says is an attempt to flush toxins out of your body.

Narconon-providing facilities have also been involved in wrongful death lawsuits in the US.  There were four deaths in three years at one Narconon facility in Oklahoma although these have not been linked specifically to the treatment administered during the programme.

narconon Narconon A screengrab from Narconon's official webpage. Narconon

The Church of Scientology offers a so-called religious version of this called the purification rundown.

A former member of the group explained what it was like.

John McGhee told “I was put onto the “purification rundown”, also know in ‘scientologese’ as the Purif, as my first step on Scientology’s ‘Bridge to Total Freedom’.

“It consisted of me going into the sauna every day for up to 4 hours for 32 days. Immediately before each session in the sauna I was given high doses of niacin (vitamin B3) and brought on a two-mile jog so as to induce the niacin flush. Once my skin start turning bright red and feeling like I have been stung by fire ants, it was time to jog back to the mission and get straight into the sauna.

“It was absolutely unbearable and I would often fall asleep inside the sauna with my Purif twin (another guy who was undergoing the purification rundown with me) waking me up and talking about how great L Ron Hubbard was and that how the rest of the world was deficient without Scientology in their lives.

“The person supervising our purification rundown was called the Purif i/c (in-charge). They will periodically check on us in the sauna and administer to us salts to take orally, with water, and ensure that we would have brief cold showers and return to the sauna promptly.

“I was told by Scientology the purification was the first step on the bridge because one needed a clear body and clear mind to proceed with the intense auditing which was to follow.”

A vocal opponent of the centre setting up in Westmeath is TD for the area Peadar Tóibín.

He is worried that there is no legislation in place that requires private drug treatment facilities to be independently assessed. He said that the State has a duty of its care to all people here.

BALLIVOR PROTEST 758A3033_90534488 Eamonn Farrell The former national school in Ballivor. Eamonn Farrell

In an answer to a parliamentary question by Tóibín, the Department for Health admitted that there is currently no provision in legislation for the regulation or inspection of residential treatment or rehabilitation centres specialising in addiction.

He said that this causes “significant concern”.

“The Department of Health also stated to me that organisations which provide addiction services and are funded by the HSE are required to meet minimum standards in the delivery of services across a range of criteria which form the basis of any service level agreement.

It appears that anyone can set up a residential treatment facility without accreditation and regulation in Ireland at the moment. To me this is a major gap in the state’s responsibility to protect the most vulnerable people.

“People in the grip of addiction are often at their most vulnerable. Over 80% of people presenting with substance abuse suffer with anxiety, depression and have backgrounds of trauma.” contacted the HSE to get the Irish health service’s opinion on the detox. A consultant psychiatrist in substance misuse from the National Drug Treatment Centre said that Scientology’s programme has no basis in science.

The doctor said: “Scientology’s drug treatment programme has no standing amongst medical professionals involved in the treatment of persons with alcohol and drug use disorders.

“It comprises a series of interventions (‘Narconon’) with limited or no basis in a scientific understanding of human physiology and brain functioning and may potentially be harmful directly (with overuse of vitamins and other products) and indirectly in that persons are engaging in an intervention with no evidence of potential benefit for them.”

0104 Scientology European base Firhouse copy_90526582_90526591 Scientology's new community centre in Firhouse, south Dublin.

In response from a request from about the purification programme, which shares many similar characteristics with Narconon such as saunas and vitamins, the Church of Scientology said:

“The Purification Rundown is a part of the spiritual path a member of the Scientology religion will take part in. It has been found that drugs and toxins can take a heavy toll on the emotional and spiritual well-being of an individual and the programme enables an individual to rid himself of the harmful effects of drugs, toxins and other chemicals that lodge in the body and create a biochemical barrier to spiritual well-being.

We live in a chemical-oriented society. Virtually everyone is regularly subjected to an intake of food preservatives, pesticides, atmospheric poisons and the like.

The statement quoted a paragraph from the book Clear Body Clear Mind, authored by the founder of the Church of Scientology L Ron Hubbard:

“The Purification program cannot be construed as a recommendation of medical treatment or medication and it is not professed as a physical handling for bodies nor is any claim made to that effect.

There are no medical recommendations or claims for the Purification program or for any of the vitamin or mineral regimens described in this book.

“Contributions for taking such services are given willingly by our members and our members are well aware they are used by the Church to further our community betterment activities.” specifically asked for a comment on Narconon but was told by the PR for Scientology in Ireland that is a completely separate entity and that he would be unable to comment.

Read: Locals turn out in numbers to protest proposed drug rehab centre in Co Meath >

Read: Taoiseach asked to send ‘message of support’ to Meath village worried about ‘Scientology centre’ >

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