A "drug treatment program" backed by a controversial church is trying to sell Alberta natives addiction-cure services that medical experts have warned are unsafe and ineffective.
As many as 10 Alberta reserves have been approached by Narcorion, a U.S.-based program associated with the Church of Scientology.
The program - which costs about $18,000 US and prescribes daily saunas and megavitamin doses - has been rejected by a U.S. state board of health because it "may endanger the physical or mental well-being of (its) clients."
Brendan Moore, a former Scientologist and director of the Calgary-based Cult Information service Inc., said Narconon recruits members for Scientology.
While none of Alberta's 45 native reserves have signed up for the program, Moore fears it is only a matter of time. "It makes me shudder thinking of taxpayer's dollars going into this," he said.
But Los Angeles-based Scientology spokeswoman Gaetane Asselin said just because Narconon used Scientology principles, it didn't mean every Narconon client became a Scientologist.
"It's such an old (criticism), it is boring. It's terrible," Asselin said.
"People for many years have just tried to stop us from helping others to be drug free."
In most of the United States, drug treatment programs must be certified by state authorities or sanctioned by nationwide industry associations.
In Canada, nothing would prevent a reserve from funding its own Narconon program, said Garth Corrigal of Edmonton, regional director of Health Canada's medical services branch.
But if the reserve asked Ottawa to fund such a program, the chances of approval were slim because cash was scarce, Corrigal said. In addition, the program would have to be recognized by medical or therapeutic associations in Alberta.
Of the 34 alcohol and drug rehabilitation centres Narconon claims to have in 12 countries, the best known in North America is a 75-bed facility on the Chilocco Indian reserve in Oklahoma.
Narconon applied to the state's board of mental health for certification. In a report, the board found Narconon requires its patients to sweat up to five hours per day for 30 days and take high doses of vitamins and minerals.
"The doses were so high the board concluded it could be potentially dangerous to the patients."
The board noted that most drugs were removed from the body through the liver, kidneys and lungs. "Although minute quantities of some drugs may be found in sweat, the amount represents a small fraction of drug elimination," the board ruled.
The board warned sauna therapy could pose "significant health risks to intravenous heroin addicts."
It also stated that by restricting patients to seeing their doctors, family, lawyers, clergy and other such contacts only at limited, specified times, Narconon was endangering their physical and mental well-being.
But the board decision didn't stop Narconon. Bob Lobsinger, publisher of an Oklahoma weekly paper, said Narconon was given approval to set up a facility through a nationwide industry association.
Gary Smith, Narconon's Los Angeles-based acting chief executive officer, said the Oklahoma board refused to hear testimony from a clutch of experts supporting Narconon's program and as a result its findings were flawed.
Smith claimed the Chilocco facility had treated as many as 400 drug addicts and more than 70 per cent remained drug-free since it opened in the early 1980s.
Scientologist and Narconon volunteer Steve Koochin of Edmonton said he had always disclosed - in dealings with tribal leaders - that Scientology supported Narconon. He added no Alberta tribe had subscribed to the program.
Chris Shade, administrator of the Blood Tribe's department of health, said a tribe member convinced him to send a medical student to Narconon's Chilocco facility to check the program out.
The student found out about the Narconon-Scientology connection. "That is when I started to backpedal fast," Shade said.
Marvin Fox, director of the Tsuu T'ina Nation Spirit Healing Lodge near Calgary, wrote the Herald that Narconon's program "is worth while looking into." After being told about the Oklahoma findings, though, he said his or any other reserve would have to carefully examine it.
Scientology was founded by American science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard to create a new civilization that is "without insanity, without criminals and without war."
Despite that goal, 11 top U.S. Scientologists - including. Hubbard's wife - were sent to prisons in the early 1980's after, being convicted of burglarizing and wire-tapping more than 100 private and government agencies.