If you've been anywhere near the inside of an East London kebab shop or minicab office in the past few weeks (and have been sober enough to remember anything you saw), you may have noticed a small pile of free, anti-drugs pamphlets on the counter. A sight that may have instantly reminded you of the terrible decisions you may or may not have made with your evening, such as shovelling the remainder of your wrap up your nose just before you were about to go home.
The Truth About Drugs appears, at first glance, to be yet another desperately out-of-touch attempt to make young people who go out a lot at night feel guilty about their lives. Then you read it and spot – among pages of dubious stats and cautionary tales so laughably extreme they read like Pulitzer-worthy pieces of satire – that the pamphlet was put together by an organisation called Foundation For a Drug-Free World.
It turns out, after a little research, that the foundation in question is a front group run by the Church of Scientology. The link between the church and the foundation isn't made explicit anywhere in the pamphlet, their adverts or on the FFAD-FW website, though, because – duh – that would put literally everybody off straight away.
Highlights from the pamphlet include "Ann", who "reveals" in "her testimony" that she once took so many pills she started eating glass, and another time "tore rags with [her] teeth for an hour". Then there's "Edith", whose casual party toke on a spliff more or less instantly dragged her into the torturous depths of a cocaine, LSD, OxyContin and heroin habit. Helpfully, the pamphlet also covers the longer-term consequences of drug abuse to help kids understand exactly what they'll be getting themselves into if they ever dare take a sniff from a bottle of poppers in a festival tent. For example, the claim that "a person will do almost anything to get [cocaine] – even commit murder. And if he or she can't get cocaine, the depression can get so intense that it drives them to suicide."
Okay, while I'm sure there's the odd case where someone's ended up murdering someone else for a few lines, in general the most dangerous thing you're gonna do is wait in a back alley for a while before climbing into a Mercedes or an Audi driven by a guy who seems friendly enough, but who can't return to Serbia without being tried for war crimes. Also, just in case the pamphlets weren't ridiculous enough, the people behind them clearly thought it a good idea to launch a gritty, urban website (because all kids identify with Linkin Park and graffiti) where they can post videos for people to laugh at.
"They said meth would help me get through my exams," says a fresh-faced youngster, as he points a semi-automatic handgun at a shopkeeper. “They lied.”
Aside from the fact that I doubt anyone has ever suggested to a 15-year-old that a quick blast on the crank pipe would help them tear through a late-night GCSE revision session, it's kind of alarming that, in 2012, anyone would patronise young people with fear-mongering so ridiculously overhyped. But maybe that's no surprise, given The Church of Scientology's skewed and long-discredited ideas about drug abuse and drug rehabilitation.
The Church of Scientology endorses and operates a drug rehabilitation programme called Narconon. Although Narconon claims to be secular, its written materials and the doctrines from which its beliefs and practices originate are directly adapted from the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.
Scientology's anti-drugs stance doesn't stop at illegal street narcotics, either, it also bans pharmaceuticals that aid totally unimportant things like, y'know, helping people stay alive; insulin, anti-convulsants, anti-depressants – that kind of thing. Even though the church has attracted more attention for its creepier exports – Suri Cruise's silent birth, the exploits of Xenu, John Travolta, etc – it's these ideas of preventing sick people taking their medicine that have far more dangerous implications.
I spoke to David Love, whose campaign helped shut down the Quebec Narconon facility where he was once a patient and later worked. “Some people say it’s a watered down version of the Church of Scientology,” he told me. “But it's 100 percent Scientology with no difference at all. All the training routines, the objectives, the auditing sessions – they’re exactly identical to what you would receive at the Church of Scientology, word for word.”
After enrolling in Narconon, patients immediately undergo therapy sessions where they're paired with a partner and are made to stare at each other for several hours without moving or speaking. Partners or staff members then try to provoke other patients into moving, often by using degrading language, in sessions called "bull-baiting".
“They unleash hell on you and say these insane things,” Colin Henderson, a former Narconon patient from Oklahoma told me. “You have to just sit there and take it. One of the instructors was bull-baiting me – going at me really hard – and she just looked me dead in the eye and said: ‘Man, I bet you've got the biggest set of balls. I just wanna put them in my mouth.'"
Picture that the next time you're keying your second gram of the night in a dive club in Brighton, or any one of the other party districts of the cities the pamphlets have been distributed in. Would the prospect of being whisked miles away to middle-of-nowhere America and subjected to borderline sexual harassment by a stern woman in a trouser suit put you off your next bump? Or does that sound unerringly close to your pre-existing drugs routine, but with a free holiday thrown in? I'm guessing it's more likely that it just prangs you out a little.
“The stated purpose is to be able to not react to anything that's said to you. And, in order to pass, you have to sit there and not flinch, not smile, nothing,” says "Alex", an ex-Scientologist who once worked with Narconon. “It becomes another form of being willing to be controlled, so you become more submissive as a result.”
Narconon, reaching out to the kids with graffiti.
After these initial sessions, patients must sit in a sauna for a number of days while taking increasingly larger doses of a B-vitamin called niacin. “You sit in the sauna for five hours a day,” says Love. “I was there for 25 days. My last dose of niacin was 2600mg, but some patients go up to 5000mg.”
That method of treatment operates according to L. Ron Hubbard's theory that drugs are stored in the body’s fat, leaving them free to be released at some point in the future, causing an individual to eventually desire the drug again. Sweating, according to Hubbard, is the best way for the toxins to be completely released and the addiction to disappear. The niacin is supposedly there to replace the amount of vitamins you're losing as your MDMA-riddled sweat drips down your back.
Hubbard's claims have been disproved by toxicologists and mainstream medicine for years; most drugs leave the body within a few days and sweating doesn't expedite the process or curb addictive urges. To be honest, I'd always thought that sweating had some sort of effect on the drugs in your body, too – I'd assumed that people chose to dance in grubby, basement sweat-boxes all night because it'd help cancel out the inhuman amount of drugs they'd ingested. How wrong I was.
Love went on to explain that, not only was the process entirely pointless, but also hugely detrimental. "The Canadian health limit for niacin is 500mg a day in a healthy body. People in rehab are not healthy people, so there's no way they should be ingesting niacin – that's like pouring gasoline on a fire. Niacin is very toxic to the liver. Some of the people on the programme had to be hospitalised and I was in so much pain because of it. The sauna is a terrible, terrible experience."
In spite of the fact that Narconon's methods have been dismissed as complete bullshit, the programme still continues with its detoxing. Patients who argue with the treatment methods or misbehave in any way are labelled as a PTS – or "Potential Trouble Source" – and punished severely. “You break one of the rules and you’re put onto what’s called an ethics cycle,” says Love. “You have to remain absolutely silent and do slave labour for days or, sometimes, a couple of weeks non-stop. It’s brutal.”
Alex confirms: “It’s a way of saying, 'If you're not going to comply, this is what we'll do to you until you're willing to comply.'"
“You've got to remember that Scientologists are experts at mind control," explains Love. “The patients don’t even realise, but they’re being indoctrinated into a cult. It’s not treatment. There is no treatment there, there are no doctors there, there are no nurses there. A doctor didn’t even visit the place. It's all Scientology training routines and auditing sessions to indoctrinate you and recruit you into the Church of Scientology. That is all it is, period.”
With that in mind, who's to say that these pamphlets aren't a large-scale recruitment tool for the Church of Scientology? A thinly-veiled attempt to welcome Dalston's cocaine addicts and Manchester's LSD-enthusiasts into their sinister, sci-fi fold? Recovering drug addicts often find religion in their process towards sobriety, using it as a crutch to battle their lack of belonging, so combining a so-called treatment facility with a bootcamp for religion seems the perfect way to segue an unsuspecting addict into Scientology. Christianity's been doing it for years, so there's no reason why any other equally preposterous religion couldn't get in on the action, too.
Unlike the slightly more forgiving Christians, however, if a Narconon patient continues to cause trouble or relapses, they're kicked out of the programme. “They’re tossed out like trash,” says Alex. “They get dumped at a hotel or a bus station with no way to fend for themselves. They're in a vulnerable state – in a non-stable state of mind – where they're gonna go out and use and, in many cases, overdose.”
Leaving the facility isn't the only route to an overdose, though; there have already been a number of deaths at the Narconon centre in Arrowhead, Oklahoma this year. Stacy Murphy overdosed in July after being left in the sauna unattended, in spite of the fact that she was visibly unwell and – according to her father – on the verge of overdosing before entering the room. The parents of Hilary Holten, another patient who died, believe her death was possibly because she was denied the medication she needed for a pre-existing condition. Narconon withholding medication is something many former patients and staff have commented on. "They took one patient’s meds away and he put a bullet through his head,” says Love of a patient who was barred from taking his anti-depressants.
Narconon’s website boasts a success rate of 75 percent, which, of course, is probably as high as many former Narconon patients are today, because that's probably a lie. Non-Scientologist sources have proved that there's literally no external evidence whatsoever to back up the claims by literature produced in-house. “My job [when I worked at Narconon] was to contact the patients that had gone through the programme,” says Love. “The success rate was only 20 percent, and that was after I'd included all the staff that had relapsed while working there. They told me to just take the people I couldn’t contact and put them in the ‘doing well’ column. Narconon will tell you what they want, but they’ve got absolutely no controlled studies on success rates whatsoever.”
A key factor for Narconon’s success within some schools and communities has been its deliberate distancing from its Scientology links. However, as more controversies arise from Scientology, the Foundation for a Drug-Free World – and the pamphlets you might happen to pick up on your next big night out – appears to be the new front behind which the CoS can continue to promote its misguided ideas of how to treat serious medical problems like addiction, and ultimately attract potential new converts to the Church.
“The whole goal of Scientology is to make everyone a Scientologist," says Alex. "The Foundation is one more recruitment avenue that they invented. And it’s not only for the purpose of recruitment, but also extracting more money from church members. If you do something where you’re in trouble, the Church says 'Why don't you buy 10,000 booklets and have them distributed?' And they charge you full price – printing costs five pence a piece, but they charge you 80, so they're making money off their sham. Nothing is designed for pure goodness, it's all with the ulterior motive of recruiting and making money."
The influx of these pamphlets into East London doesn't seem that odd when you consider the number of empty baggies that have been licked clean and left to line the floors at the toilets of every club there on any given night. But, should someone in need actually bother to pick it up – whether that's in London or anywhere else in the world where the pamphlets have been distributed, after being translated into 22 different languages – it's probably best they don't call the number. Unless, that is, they want to be redirected to their local Narconon treatment centre and spend the next few months being abused and having their psyche broken down, ready to be built back up and moulded into a drug-free believer by the Church of Scientology.
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