McAlester Drug Rehab Center Narconon Targeted In 3rd Wrongful Death Suit
McALESTER, Oklahoma - Another civil lawsuit has been filed against a Scientology-based northeastern Oklahoma drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, court documents state.
It is the third such lawsuit filed against the facility this year.
The mother of a Claremore man, who died in 2011 while a patient at Narconon Arrowhead near McAlester, filed the latest petition on Thursday in Pittsburg County District Court. The filing comes almost one year to the day that Gabriel Graves, 32, was found dead in his bed.
Graves left behind two minor children. He was treated at the facility for two months before his death, court documents state.
In the lawsuit, Shirley Gilliam alleges her son was the victim of wrongful death, negligence, and violation of the Oklahoma Consumer Protection Act. The suit lists defendants as nonprofit Narconon Arrowhead, Narconon International, the Association for Better Living and Education International and Gerald D. Wootan, medical director of Narconon Arrowhead.
The defendants "all rely exclusively upon the written ‘technology' of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology… despite the fact that Hubbard has no known training or education in the field of drug and alcohol rehabilitation," the lawsuit alleges.
Two other patients died at Narconon Arrowhead this year – a 20-year-old woman from Owasso, Stacy Dawn Murphy, and a Texas woman, Hillary Holten. Murphy's family filed a lawsuit earlier this month, and Holten's family filed in August.
The families of Murphy and Graves are both represented by the same Tulsa law firm.
"Circumstances of the deaths of Gabriel Graves and Stacy Murphy have numerous similarities," attorney Gary Richardson said. "Both of these young adults were addicted to drugs and were introduced to Narconon when they sought treatment. They and their parents were provided misleading information on the Narconon website and by Narconon representatives, which led them to believe that Narconon Arrowhead would be a safe and effective treatment facility."
Richardson takes issue with what he calls a fraudulent misrepresentation of 24-hour physician oversight at the facility.
"Instead, a physician is present only once a week," Richardson said.
According to court documents, Graves was denied doctor's care when requested, and Murphy was found dead in an unsupervised withdrawl unit after she sneaked in drugs following a visit home.
The lawsuit claims Graves experienced symptoms of feeling ill, headaches and vomiting, and repeatedly requested medical assistance. He was never examined by nor referred to a physician, nor transferred to a medical facility equipped to diagnose and appropriately treat his medical symptoms, the petition says.
The day of his death, Graves complained to staff about a headache after spending time in the sauna program, but was denied over-the-counter pain relief and was told to return to the sauna, the suit alleges.
According to the Narconon website, the sauna detox program was developed by Hubbard and is aimed at mobilizing and eliminating foreign compounds stored in fat. Narconon uses "prescribed periods in low-temperature sauna to promote sweating," the website says.
Clients are on the detox program up to five hours a day every day and aside from sauna treatment, components include exercise, vitamin and fluid intake, a regular diet with fresh vegetables and a normally required amount of sleep, the website says.
Narconon says the program rids the body of drug metabolites, which reduce future cravings and promote long-term sobriety.
"Use of this detoxification program at Narconon is based on the premise that drug residues [Cocaine, amphetamine and benzodiazepine metabolites] remain in body tissues long after active use has ceased," the website says.
In an unrelated case, Narconon is being forced to hand over records another Oklahoma family believes will disclose that some employees trade drugs in exchange for sex with patients.
In September, the Oklahoma Supreme Court denied Narconon Arrowhead's request to keep those documents protected.