State looks into Narconon of Georgia

Narconon of Georgia, already embroiled in a lawsuit over the death of a patient who was court ordered into a residential drug treatment program that in fact never existed, now faces revocation of its license by Georgia health regulators.

Documents obtained from the State Department of Community Health by WSB Radio News under an Open Records Request show Narconon of Georgia has been found to be violating its license by running a residential drug rehab program while only permitted to operate as an outpatient facility.

The allegations have plagued Narconon of Georgia since it was founded in 2002. But unable to subpoena witnesses and documents, the Department of Community Health (formerly the Department of Human Services) has been unable to prove in court that Narconon has run a residential program while claiming to be operating an outpatient facility.

Why would someone do that?

"By claiming to be a residential program, they can obviously charge a lot more," said Attorney Jeff Harris. He is suing Narconon on behalf of Patrick Desmond's family after Desmond died in 2008. (Read more here) Narconon's executive director is accused in that lawsuit of telling both Desmond's family and the drug court administrator in Brevard County, Florida, that hers was a 24-hour residential treatment facility when it is not. Desmond, 28, drank throughout his stay at Narconon, according to his family. He then returned home to Florida, relapsed, and was sentenced to return to Narconon. There, according to the lawsuit, while drinking with staff members, he decided to try heroin. He died from a combined overdose of alcohol and heroin.

While profit is one motive for Narconon to claim it is a residential program even though it is not licensed as such, Harris said an outpatient facility is not under as much scrutiny by regulators as is a residential program. In his suit, which is set for trial in Dekalb County State Court on February 11, Harris contends Narconon has tried to conceal its residential operations by claiming they are separately owned and operated. Harris said testimony and a raft of documents proves that the separate company, Discovery Course, is actually a mere shell company operated by Narconon Executive Director Mary Reiser.

The state finding, dated December 14, shows that information brought to regulators’ attention by reporters for WSB Radio News, Channel 2 Action News and the AJC provided sufficient basis to do what at least a dozen other investigations had failed to do: lead the Department of Community Health to initiate license revocation proceedings against Narconon of Georgia.

An attorney for the drug rehab facility, one of several around the world that are affiliated with the Church of Scientology, said the allegations came without notice and are hotly contested.

“Narconon of Georgia strongly disagrees with the findings mentioned in the Department’s correspondence and corresponding survey report and plans to vigorously oppose any efforts to revoke its license, “ wrote lawyer Barbara Marschalk in a statement to WSB Radio News, WSB-TV and the AJC.

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