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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Stopping the scourge of drug abuse

Take our drug quiz
Listen to excerpts (in mp3 format) of The Advertiser's exclusive interview with actress Kelly Preston, as told to Island Life reporter Catherine E. Toth:
How Kelly Preston got involved with Narconon Hawaii
Why Kelly is so passionate about Narconon's anti-drug message
How Kelly feels about Hawaii's crystal meth problem
About the DVD

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

Actress Kelly Preston spoke to senior girls at Mid-Pacific Institute on Thursday about her own experience with drugs. She was in town to promote a new anti-drug DVD for families.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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  • http://teens.drugabuse.gov

  • www.theantidrug.com

  • www.nida.nih.gov

  • www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov

  • www.drugfree.org

  • www.health.org

  • www.freevibe.com

  • www.drug-free-kids.org

  • www.narcononhawaii.org

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    What is Narconon?

    Narconon which comes from two Greek words (narco meaning drugs and non meaning no) is an international drug rehabilitation and education program based on research by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. It is a secular, drug-free model of rehabilitation that does not employ drugs, pharmaceuticals or mind-altering substances as part of the recovery process.

    How did Narconon start?

    The Narconon program was founded in 1966 by William Benitez, who was an inmate of Arizona State Prison. While searching for a way to kick his heroin addiction, Benitez came across Hubbard's book, "The Fundamentals of Thought" in the prison library. He started a pilot drug rehab program in the prison. It has grown to more than 100 rehab and prevention centers around the world today, according to the nonprofit's Web site.

    How is Narconon linked to Scientology?

    Narconon uses the philosophy and findings of Hubbard but remains financially separate from the Church of Scientology, according to Clark Carr, president of Narconon International.

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    Punahou graduate Kelly Preston said that at 15, I tried (marijuana), I loved it and I was hooked.

    DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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    It's hard to imagine someone as polished, confident and successful as Hawai'i-born actress Kelly Preston spiraling into drug abuse.

    Well, she did and she's making it her mission to stop anyone else from going down that same path.

    "No matter what you think about drugs, it crushes your spirit ... and stops you from doing what you want," Preston told a group of about 80 senior girls and their mothers at Mid-Pacific Institute on Thursday.

    Preston was in Hawai'i last week promoting a new DVD, "Keeping Your Kids Drug-Free: What Parents Need To Know," part of a free kit that aims to help parents talk to their kids about alcohol and drugs. She's also starring in public service announcements that began airing in Hawai'i on Sunday.

    Sponsored by the nonprofit Narconon Hawaii, the kit features the DVD which is filled with testimonies from Hawai'i leaders, experts and former drug users and other information to help families talk openly and honestly about drugs.

    The kit is being launched in Hawai'i before it is offered nationwide, tailored to fit different regions of the country.

    So far Narconon's anti-drug message has toured more than 60 schools in Hawai'i over the past year, with educators from the nonprofit talking with kids at the detention home in Kane'ohe, students in ROTC programs and athletes with the University of Hawai'i-Manoa's football program.

    Dressed in jeans and a peasant top at Mid-Pacific Institute, Preston, 43, spoke candidly about her experimentation with and addiction to drugs.

    "I tried it, I loved it and I was hooked," Preston said about trying marijuana for the first time at age 15. "You name it, I did it."

    That experimentation led her to use cocaine, ecstasy, Quaalude and LSD.

    It took Preston years to realize that drugs were holding her back from reaching her goals and fully experiencing life.

    "I never knew food could taste so good, that I could be this happy," said Preston, who used the principles taught by Narconon to kick her habit. "From that moment my career took off."

    In 2003, Preston, who most recently starred with Kurt Russell in "Sky High," saw Edgy Lee's documentary "Ice: Hawai'i's Crystal Meth Epidemic." She had no idea about the drug problem back home.

    "It broke my heart," said Preston, who graduated from Punahou School in 1980. "The stories I heard about meth breaking up families ... I really felt that if we all got together, if everybody came together, we could turn Hawai'i around."

    Last year Preston helped found Narconon Hawaii to educate youths and parents about the dangers of drugs.

    Narconon International, based in Los Angeles, plans to open at least one adult rehabilitation facility on O'ahu this year. The goal is to establish more than a dozen centers across the state.

    "I want to turn this completely around," Preston said. "The sky's the limit."

    Right now, though, the focus is on education and awareness.

    "We want to help parents get in better communication with their kids on this subject," said Clark Carr, president of Narconon International. "You can't overstate that. It's not a situation until it's a screaming situation."

    The Narconon program isn't without its critics.

    The program is based on the principles of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Though the programs are not financially linked, some wonder whether this is yet another ploy to recruit members.

    For example, in 2004, school district officials in Los Angeles ordered a review of Narconon's prevention and education program, which reaches thousands of students in at least 20 California districts. Last February, the state investigation concluded that the program failed to "reflect accurate, widely accepted medical and scientific evidence."

    But what makes the Narconon drug education program effective with young people is its emphasis on telling the often harsh truth about drugs through real-life testimonials, said Julie Halpern, director of student services at Mid-Pacific Institute.

    "What they respond to the most is someone giving personal testimony about overcoming adversity," Halpern said. "That's what they like about Narconon."

    The students at Mid-Pac also responded to Preston's local roots and celebrity status.

    "She's from Hawai'i, too, so it really hits home," said Sadie Ontkean, 18, from Diamond Head. "I think about everything that I want to do and where I want to go and none of that has to do with drugs ... I don't want to waste my time."

    Ellorin Joy Davis, a 17-year-old from Hawai'i Kai, who has Broadway aspirations, knows the dangers of drugs and doesn't want any part of it.

    "I think of myself being in that same place," said Davis, who shares birth dates with Preston. "But God is my extreme strength."

    For Dani Mafua, drugs would interfere with her short-term goal: playing volleyball at the University of Hawai'i.

    "I'm an athlete, so I already know what my body can and cannot take," said the 17-year-old from Kapolei. "(Drugs) will only take a toll on my body. And I've got so much ahead of me."

    Reach Catherine E. Toth at ctoth@honoluluadvertiser.com.