By KATH GANNAWAY
NARCONON spokeswoman Dr Nerida James has moved to reassure residents that they are not at risk from plans to relocate the drug rehabilitation program to Warburton township.
Dr James said they did not take ‘at risk’ students into the program, which The Association for Better living and Education was currently applying to Yarra Ranges Council for a planning permit to run out of Green Gables conference centre.
The email response to a series of questions put to Dr James by the Mail* comes as opposition grows to the move to change the program from its current and more remote property at East Warburton.
Paul Jackson, spokesman for SayNoNarcononWarburton told the Mail last week they had many questions they wanted answered and called for more dialogue, accountability and transparency from Narconon.
Dr James said she hoped there could be some positive news about the work done by Narconon at East Warburton over the past 13 years, with a view to the success they have had in helping restore families affected by drug abuse.
She said the biggest issues they dealt with were alcohol, marijuana and prescription drug abuse but that there were students who had had past experience with drugs of all types including heroin and methamphetamine.
In relation to the potential for violence by residents coming off drugs, she said students must have medical clearance and if the level of substance abuse had been extremely high, they were referred on to do a medical detox or to a practitioner to do a step down program.
She said there were no illicit or medical drugs allowed on the premises.
In answer to other questions on safety and risk management, Dr James said:
*The staff/client ratio is two to one.
*They have had no issues with drug suppliers and only a few occasions where visitors have attempted to take in alcohol and prescription drugs over the last few years, and the rare instance of illicit drugs.
*They maintain close co-ordination with police and would immediately report any suspect (drug supplier) activity, although they have had nothing in the last three years and don’t expect any in the future.
*They have security personnel and will have their security firm co-ordinate with police and council to do a security plan for Green Gables.
*In the last few years, police have been called to Narconon on three occasions to Dr James’ knowledge to deal with students who have been dismissed but refuse to leave.
See Dr James’ answers to the Mail’s questions in full on the Mail website at StarCommunity.com.
*The Mail did not receive Dr. James’ answers on Monday, 7 October for inclusion in the 8 October article, but accepts Dr James’ assurances they were sent in good faith by email on that date. Emails are not always reliable.
STATEMENT FROM DR. NERIDA JAMES and answers to questions put by the Mail.
While I would hope there can be some positive news re the work we do at Warburton over the last 13 years, I am happy to answer these questions with the view that the success we have with helping restore families to their former harmony. We help mend the fences broken by loved ones who have fallen prey to substance abuse.
Q. Do your clients include people dealing with heroin and/or methamphetamine addiction?
We have students on the program who have had past experience with drugs of all types including some of those you mention. However the largest issues we see is Alcohol abuse, marijuana and prescription drug abuse (medical), especially in the local community.
Statistically heroin and meth are among the lowest abused drugs per capita, with prescription drugs now far exceeding other forms of addiction in Australia.
Q. Is there a potential for threatening, violent or anti-social behaviour from people coming off these or other drugs?
No, I don’t think so. We do not take at-risk-students on the program. The students who volunteer to attend the program are ordinary members of the community who have been addicted to drugs and alcohol previously. These students are voluntarily taking responsibility for their lives and making the most of the opportunity to change their lives for the better. They are positive and productive.
In doing the program students must have medical clearance in order for this to not be an issue. If the level of substance abuse has been extremely high, at Get Off Drugs Naturally, we refer them onto do a medical detox or to a practitioner where they undergo a step down program.
We have a drug free centre at Warburton. There are NO drugs at all on the Get Off Drugs Naturally premises. No illicit drugs, no drugs of addiction are allowed onto the premises. We do not have any medical drugs on the premises either and this would include no drugs such as Methadone, Subtex, Naltrexone, etc.
The anti-social behaviour associated with drugs is prevalent when people are actively taking drugs. Erratic behaviour is one of the side effects of drug taking. The extreme behaviour you see reported in the media is a result of active drug taking or alcohol abuse. We do not experience this and do not take at-risk clients.This is an education facility and students must be able to attend classes on a daily basis.
A person who no longer wishes to use drugs is educated thoroughly and with fully-informed consent, makes a positive decision to change their life indefinitely.
We do have a unique and workable program which guides a person through in the best possible way and many educational techniques are used to help them through any stage to stick to their goal of improving their life style.
Each student is carefully looked after and monitored and assisted so that they do make it through the 8 modules of the Narconon program. My staff and I have no concerns about safety issues and I want to assure the community of this fact.
Q. What is the client/security staff ratio?
The students/staff ratio presently is one staff member for every two students.
The program is carried out indoors in a class room improving life and literacy skills and the majority of the time students are concentrating on the program. There are no activities carried out that will create undue impact on the surrounding neighbourhood.
Q. Has Narconon had issues with drug suppliers delivering to O’Shannassy in the past?
No, we have not had issues with drug suppliers. We are widely known as a drug-free educational program and that our students are here because they want to be here. We do have preventative screening procedures in place at all times.
We have had only a few occasions where visitors have attempted to bring in alcohol and prescription drugs on a weekend – over the last few years and the rare instance of illicit drugs.
Q. What measures will be taken to ensure suppliers do not frequent the (Green Gables) area?
Drug suppliers simply do not frequent our program.
We do not encourage random visitors or random people coming onto the property. We maintain close coordination with the police and would immediately report any suspect activity, but we have had nothing in the last 3 years at least and do not expect any in the future.
We already have security personnel employed and will have our professional security firm do a security plan for the property which will be coordinated with police and council.
Q. How many times have police been called to the O’Shannassy facility to deal with problems with clients, or with others, causing concern to either Narconon personnel, or others in the area?
Over the years Get Off Drugs Naturally has called the police several times to remove students who have been dismissed from the program due to their violating the student rules yet refusing to leave.
To my knowledge, this has occurred on 3 occasions (again in the last few years).
I would appreciate if you could advise the Warburton residents of my statement below in response to any claims (and your last article), as follows:
I appreciate some local Warburton residents are concerned about plans to relocate Get Off Drugs Naturally from East Warburton to Green Gables.
I am committed to listening to residents’ concerns and addressing them as far as I can.
90 per cent of the Narconon program we use is based on education – focusing on improving communication, literacy and life skills.
This is what makes the program very different to the medical drug rehabilitation models operating through out Australia.
It is not a needle exchange or methadone program.
The other ten per cent of the Narconon methodology is good food, sauna detoxification, vitamins/minerals and exercise.
One other key aspect is that all of our clients are participating of their own free will.
If they change their mind at any stage or find they cannot stick to the program, then they go home, escorted by a family member or one of our staff.
I am confident there will minimal impact on traffic in the area as clients stay on site with no cars being kept on site.
Get Off Drugs Naturally has been part of the Warburton community for over 12 years and we value the lifestyle and people who make this such a great place to live.
Dr.Nerida James N. D.