No To Narconon, Yes To Truthful Drug Education Programs

By Clayton Flesher – Parents in some Oklahoma schools are upset about Narconon, a Scientology front group, getting into public schools under the auspices of anti-drug campaigns. I would wager most Oklahoma parents haven’t actually looked at Narconon’s literature. And it would be reasonable to assume that many wouldn’t like Narconon because it doesn’t hold with their religious views. As News 9 said earlier this week:

“Last week, Narconon made the anti-drug presentation in Asher. But parents across Oklahoma have contacted News 9 upset about this very thing.

The Asher parents say they have no issues with the school or its administration, but are concerned about Narconon’s ties with the Church of Scientology.”

Narconon admits to having given over 100 presentations. And it is pretty clear they are trying to get into public schools. In fairness, mainstream secular anti-drug programs like DARE are problematic. DARE has been shown to be either unsuccessful, or actually counterproductive.

I’m going to admit up front that I can’t give empirical data indicating why exactly it is that DARE doesn’t work. I have opinions that are informed by anecdote and appeals to the best explanation, but I can’t prove that my opinions are correct with studies. I also have to make a bit of an embarrassing admission. I’ve never used illegal drugs. I never drank alcohol until I was 21, and even then I never came close to abusing it. I have been high on prescription drugs, but only those that were prescribed to me and in recommended doses. I have a fairly addictive personality, and I support that tendency with video games and blogging, alongside working nearly 60 hours a week.

All said, I think it is fairly obvious to anyone who has been through the DARE program why it doesn’t work. DARE treats all drugs the same, even when a little dose of reality will show that isn’t the case. Almost nobody begins drug use with anything other than alcohol and marijuana, neither of which lead to the kinds of situations described by breathless cops in the DARE program when recounting the after-effects of methamphetamine and PCP. I got a better education about the differences between, and potential side-effects of, drugs from the movie “Friday” than I did by listening to my school’s DARE officer. That’s a little terrifying to me as a parent.

The best study on all of this I could find referenced was mentioned here:

“Students who have been taught that drugs kill see a different reality outside of school — a variety of people using a variety of drugs with a variety of effects. The two views don’t mesh, which results in a lot of confused kids. Joel Brown, director of the Center for Educational Research and Development in Berkeley, was struck by the anxiety many students felt after going through a “just say no” program, in this case California’s Drug, Alcohol and Tobacco Education. Brown randomly surveyed 5,045 students and interviewed another 240 in focus groups. He found that DATE, like DARE, had no long-term effect on consumption. But he also discovered something more alarming: DATE left many kids unsure whom to believe on the topic of drugs.”

This is also my biggest criticism of Narconon, only they’re mixing fear-mongering about drugs with Scientology-based pseudoscience, and making things even worse. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at Narconon’s elementary and high school literature in their own words.

Let’s start with the elementary curriculum:

“2d. Methamphetamine is the fastest growing drug in usage throughout America. It is interesting that every single ingredient that goes into making ‘meth’ is a poisoous [sic].”

Last time I checked every single ingredient that goes into making table salt, namely chlorine and sodium, is extremely poisonous. I’m not saying for a second that methamphetamine isn’t poisonous. It clearly is. The problem here is that this blanket statement perpetuates a culture of fear about chemicals that is misleading. And this claim isn’t true. It happens to be the case that non-poisonous ingredients, like table salt, are used in some methods for manufacturing methamphetamine.

The same section also discusses the importance of dosage, and how any drug in high doses is dangerous, but that is true of anything. Too much of a substance that reacts biologically, like say water, can be toxic in high enough doses. Just ask the “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” lady.

Next, the curriculum says that nearly all drugs follow a predictive pattern. In small doses they act as a stimulant. In higher doses they act as a depressant and eventually lead to death.

Methamphetamine, cocaine, PCP, LSD, caffeine and nicotine never made anyone sleepy, even in toxic doses. In fact, the first four are notorious for keeping people up for days. In the other direction, I’ve never heard of any of the opioid class of narcotics ever acting as a stimulant, even in tiny doses. Telling kids that almost all drugs follow the same predictive pattern actually gives them bad information in identifying and reacting appropriately to a potentially dangerous situation. Overdosing is not feeling sleepy because you are crashing from being awake for days on end and vice versa.

If you doubt for a second that Narconon is a front group for Scientology, I looked on the Scientology.org website in their booklet called “The Truth About Drugs.”

Here is a direct quotation from the booklet:

“Drugs are essentially poisons. The amount taken determines the effect. A small amount acts as a stimulant (speeds you up). A greater amount acts as a sedative (slows you down). An even larger amount poisons and can kill.”

Up until now, all of this may seem like picking nits. Yes, technically what they are saying is incorrect or misleading, but come on! These are elementary students. We don’t need to be that nuanced. Let’s say I accept that point, but all of this is to set up Lesson Two, where things really start to go off the rails.

This session covers the fact that drugs, such as LSD, marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine; as well as other drugs, are fat soluble and can store in the body for extended periods of time, thus creating health problems.

No, no they can’t. An entire lesson is premised on a completely false claim promoted in Scientology literature. The only one of the four listed that is highly fat soluble is marijuana, and it only stays in the body for weeks in the heaviest users. That is why it will show up in a drug test so much longer than all of the others. LSD and powder cocaine are not fat soluble at all. Regardless of whether a drug is fat or water soluble it doesn’t remain in the system for years like Narconon claims. There are claims that LSD can affect you years later, but that is most likely due to changes in brain physiology, not because LSD is hiding out inside the body waiting for you to flush it out.

Scientology, and therefore Narconon, is wedded to this claim, because, despite it having been shown false by science, it was promoted by L. Ron Hubbard. Since everything L. Ron Hubbard said is true, then drugs must be fat soluble and stay in the system for years. This is the basis for Scientology’s Purification Rundown, on which much of the Narconon drug rehab regime is based.

The third lesson isn’t any better. It claims, falsely, that drugs use up important vitamins in the body.

“The first thing that happens is that vitamins and minerals are destroyed in the body. Vitamin A, B, C, D and others are ‘burned up’ by the drugs.”

No, they aren’t. This is silliness. In fact, it is so silly that I couldn’t even find any literature mentioning it outside of Narconon and Scientology sites. It just isn’t true.

Lesson four is where the blatant indoctrination into Scientology begins, and it continues through to the end of the series. The students are taught about levels of emotion as articulated and classified by L. Ron Hubbard in his Tone Scale. This is ostensibly presented as a tool for students to stay drug free, but it doesn’t actually give them any practical tools for dealing with a situation where they are tempted to use drugs. It says nothing about peer pressure. It gives no options on who to turn to when put in a situation that makes a student feel they need to talk to someone who might help them. It is entirely useless Scientology propaganda.

And that’s just the elementary literature. The high school literature isn’t any better. In fact, it isn’t even any different. The first three lessons are exactly the same, almost word for word.

Apparently, you can teach elementary and high school-age students exactly the same false and overly-simplistic claims and have them both be effective. Alright, no one in their right minds would think this. Unless they have a one-size-fits-all ideology as the basis for educating a diverse young population on a multifaceted issue such as drug use and abuse, then, yes, someone would think this.

All of the caveats and “oh shucks, it’s just kids” that can be a justification for lying and misleading elementary school children falls flat when you move into a room full of cynical high school students, of which some are likely experimenting with recreational drug use already. Then there are the others who might be too busy writing essays and debating the merits of drug policy in their Speech and English classes. Let’s just say if you had presented the talking points of this curriculum before taking questions, I’d have made you look like an ass hat in front of the entire class.

The fourth lesson dispenses with the Tone Scale, and instead focuses solely on Ecstasy, because apparently Ecstasy is a major epidemic in high schools. Turns out “E,” “X,” or “XTC” pales in comparison to marijuana and prescription abuse. The entire lesson is just a video, with a few questions about it afterward. The questions are designed to convince students that the media is trying to get teenagers to use drugs, and that the media is bad, M’kay.

The curriculum calls for the students to watch a video called, “Ecstasy The Real Story.” I can’t say for sure if this is the same video, but something by the same name and featuring Narconon speaker Bobby Wiggins can be found on Youtube.

 

 

If you show that video to a classroom of high school students, again some of whom have actual experience with drug use, you’re going to get laughed at, and rightfully so.

Lesson five is all about how drugs can make us forget things. Apparently, it never occurred to Narconon that some of these kids might have things they want to forget, and that these difficult situations that are not being addressed at all in this “teachable moment” may actually drive them into the arms of drugs and alcohol in the end.

Lesson six, surprise-surprise, reintroduces the Tone Scale. It is lesson four of the elementary curriculum, word for word. Both the high school and elementary curriculum end with Scientology indoctrination.

Remember, this trash is being taught in multiple Oklahoma schools.

At this point I feel obligated to give reluctant praise to DARE. At least it isn’t as bad as Narconon’s anti-drug program. But let’s be honest for a moment. If we expect our children to make informed choices, we have to deliver on the expectation that we are actually giving them the truth. Unfortunately blanket statements and agenda-based claims from outside groups do not make our job an easier one. Which is to say that when the New York Times is reporting that the federal Drug Enforcement Administration has found that “roughly seven million Americans are abusing prescription drugs” and other studies indicate that more people are dying from accidental overdoses on legal drugs as opposed to illegal drugs, and then compare these trends with what is being taught across the board, it becomes necessary to question if drug education programs are even remotely effective at all. Seems the only thing Americans are not in danger of overdosing on is evidenced-based truth.

 

3 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *