NEW YORK CITY — A Church of Scientology-backed anti-drug program is spreading its message to students in dozens of city public schools, DNAinfo New York has learned.
The Foundation for a Drug Free World, which was founded in 2006 by the controversial church, visited 30 city public schools last year, providing free anti-drug programs to elementary, middle and high school students in all five boroughs, according to its Facebook page.
The city's Department of Education denied any partnership with the group and said it did not recommend its services.
The Foundation's materials claim cocaine use leads to murder and suicide and that heroin use causes spontaneous abortions in women — claims not endorsed or are widely rejected by doctors.
The group's Facebook page shows them speaking to packed houses at schools such as P.S. 111 in Manhattan, J.H.S. 14 in Brooklyn and Bronx Regional High School. The group also posted a flier on Department of Education letterhead advertising an April 30 event at P.S.226.
“[W]herever campaign materials have saturated populations, [drug] usage rates have dramatically dropped,” the Foundation’s page on the Scientology website claims.
"The Church of Scientology and Scientologists sponsor the Truth About Drugs program, one of the world’s largest non-governmental drug education and prevention initiatives," the Church said in a statement.
"We are proud of the work done by the program’s staff and volunteers in New York and around the world."
The Church of Scientology is a California-based religion centered on the work of L. Ron Hubbard, who the church's website claims was "the first to scientifically isolate, measure and describe the human spirit."
The church holds controversial views on mental health and is opposed to psychiatry and psychology.
Meghan Fialkoff, the Northeast Executive Director of Foundation for a Drug Free World, told an NYPD Midtown North Precinct community council meeting on Jan. 20 that her program fills a gap caused by Bloomberg-era budget cuts that slashed the number of substance abuse counselors in the city’s public schools.
The Department of Education refuted that statement, saying that they refer schools to community-based organizations that provide high-quality services and do not refer schools to the Foundation or recommend their services. They said they had no contracts or official partnership with the organization.
The union DC37 protested budget cuts in 2009 that laid off hundreds of workers, including substance abuse counselors, or SAPIs, according to a press release.
The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.
The content of the Foundation's presentations has faced scrutiny. A City Limits reporter who visited a presentation in New York in June found the group’s messages had "little basis in fact." In San Francisco, Scientology-backed drug education programs were booted from schools in 2005 after being deemed misleading, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
In a lesson plan, students are taught that marijuana, which the site teaches is also knows as “dagga,” “nederweed” and “astro turf,” is a “gateway drug” with dangerous long-term health consequences.
Jerry Otero, Youth Policy Manager at the Drug Policy Alliance and drug prevention programmer at the New York City Department of Education, said the Foundation's materials use misinformation and scare tactics.
"I know it parades around as an evidence-based prevention program and not everyone really knows its genesis or its roots," he said. “They found a gap where they can insert themselves."
He said better materials are available.
"We can help kids by providing them with honest, scientific information," Otero said. "Without using scare tactics, we can promote an understanding of the legal and social consequences of drug use."
In July, Fialkoff wrote a letter defending the program, saying it had lectured to more than 50,000 schoolchildren.
She affirmed that the Church of Scientology is the program’s primary sponsor, but said the Foundation’s program was “secular.”
Citing national drug use numbers, Fialkoff wrote: “These statistics demonstrate that anyone working to solve this problem from whatever direction should be commended.”
Dr. Bernard Fialkoff, Megan Fialkoff's father, financially backs the program locally, according to The Times Ledger. Fialkoff's office is listed as the address of the Church of Scientology Mission of Queens on tax documents.
He did not respond to a request for comment.