Queen Anne’s Church of Scientology (300 W. Harrison St.) has long held the goal to make Seattle drug-free with its drug education and prevention programs.
The overall Church of Scientology organization partners with Drug Free World, an independent nonprofit, according to Ann Pearce, the Queen Anne church’s reverend and spokesperson. It’s an “international campaign,” she explained. Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard was anti-drug and believed “this was really a scourge on mankind.”
Members of the church donate money to Drug Free World for the printed and online materials.
“We pass out those booklets, and we raise awareness,” Pearce said. “And things follow from there — people take personal responsibility. They view the materials ... and sometimes miracles happen.”
In addition to the print materials volunteers from the church distribute, Drug Free World also has apps, a website, public service announcements and a documentary. The visual media uses young actors so that it’s a peer-to-peer interaction.
“It’s kids talking to kids,” Pearce said. “It’s users talking to kids and saying, ‘Hey, I did this; it didn’t work. Look at what it did to me.’”
The program targets all of the traditional drugs: crack, heroin, meth, ecstasy, prescription drugs and marijuana. Now that marijuana is legal in Washington state, that has taken a bigger focus. Washington also has large pockets of heroin and crystal meth problems, Pearce said.
“Just letting everybody do marijuana with no consequences, I view as a mistake,” Pearce said, “and I wonder what the next drug is that’s going to be legalized.”
Volunteers also hand out booklets at church and community events. Pearce estimates the church distributed 17,000 print materials in Seattle in 2013. When they hand out materials, both Scientologists and non-Scientologists volunteer. School resource officers and educators like the booklets because they’re small and easy to get into kids’ hands, Pearce said.
Drug Free World also provides a free drug-prevention curriculum for schools. This was the first year Pearce experienced kids saying no to the drug-free pledge during Red Ribbon Week.
“Personally, I think it’s because they’re being educated that drugs are OK, marijuana is OK,” she said.
On top of the church’s work with Drug Free World, each April, it hosts a speaker to talk to the public about drugs in the area. Steve Freng, prevention and treatment manager for the Northwest High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (NW HIDTA), speaks to the crowd.
Freng uses the printed materials as one part of a large inventory of printed and electronic information through the University of Washington (UW) drug and alcohol program.
“We’ve found over the years, the more variables — and if you have more means by which to communicate issues in different styles and contexts — you’re more likely to reach [people],” he said.
Freng also produces his own material, but he doesn’t have a big budget and the materials are always in high demand. The material at the UW rarely sits on the shelves, he said, especially if it’s free. Schools, community and civic groups have “an enormous appetite for materials,” he said.
Heroin is becoming a big issue across the nation, Freng said. It’s “intimately connected to the enormous rise of prescription-drug abuse,” he said. While prescription drugs are widely available, they’re expensive and can be difficult to obtain, so kids turn to heroin, which is much easier to access.
“It’s the first kind of endemic use that’s not bound in any matter by race, gender, status or locality,” he said. “It’s an equal-opportunity addiction.”
Unlike Pearce, Freng isn’t so sure about the impact marijuana legalization will have on young people. So far, the data shows school-aged kids haven’t increased their marijuana use, but he acknowledges “we’re all kind of on pins and needles” as the legalization process continues to unfold.
Despite the multitude of materials, there’s always the “concern that you’re never able to do enough,” Pearce said.
There is a factor of personal responsibility, too, she said: “Of course, I don’t know if you could ever do enough to highlight this problem, but our hope is, if we talk about it enough, if we get out enough materials, that people will wake up and hear the message.”
Freng agrees, saying, with prevention, it’s important to have a multi-strategy, multi-material and multimedia approach.
The materials are secular, Pearce said. Scientology isn’t promoted; instead, it wants the message to be about facts and statistics. “It doesn’t have anything to do with the church philosophy, other than we don’t believe in doing drugs,” she said.
Despite the secular claims, multiple schools and governments have stopped using the pamphlets because of their ties with the church.
In 2012, a California-based reporter noted the telephone number on the Drug Free World pamphlets directed people to Narcanon, the Church of Scientology’s drug-rehabilitation program.
In 2005, the San Francisco Gate newspaper reported the state superintendent urged schools in California to stop using the Narcanon program when “a new state evaluation concluded that its curriculum offers inaccurate and unscientific information,” the article stated.
The pamphlets also include information and book references from Hubbard. The back of the pamphlets also say, “This booklet is presented as a public service by the Church of Scientology International” and “To obtain more copies of this or the other booklets in this series or to learn more about the discoveries of L. Ron Hubbard and his workable technologies that rid people of the harmful effect of drugs, visit www.notodrugs-yestolife.org.”
It is no secret that some people do not agree with the teachings of the Church of Scientology. However, that does not take away from the drug outreach, Pearce said, because the “overriding concern is drug use and drug abuse.”
Peace wasn’t aware of any local schools that were using the print materials, but they are used by schools in the state, she said.
The Queen Anne community has been very supportive, Pearce said.
“We’re getting a good response because other people just aren’t doing it,” she said of free drug-prevention programs. “I think people respond incredibly well to anyone who is trying to help and make a difference in the world.”
To comment on this story, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.