In part two of this series (published on the 21st of August) I discussed the extraordinary claims made by a website belonging to a company called Narconon Scotland in detail.
In the text of their website http://www.getoffdrugs.org.uk/ they proposed that you could “Get off drugs at home” using a modified form of Scientology’s ‘purification rundown’. This is an exploitative and potentially dangerous idea.
Consequently, I complained to the Advertising Standards Authority, “The UKs independent regulator for advertising across all media” – which has recently been given authority over advertising claims made on UK websites.
The website sells Vitamin and mineral packs in an online shop,which are delivered by mail. These currently cost £150 for a weeks supply, which makes it impossible to argue that the site does not constitute an advertisement, according to the ASA rules.
An hour or so ago, I received an interesting (and positive) reply from the ASA, which I am publishing here. Please excuse any typos and other mistakes – it was done in a bit of a rush…
Thank you for contacting the ASA.
Having reviewed the website in question, our conclusion is that the claims are likely to be clear breaches of our Code, as they relate to the treatment of substance addiction. I have therefore asked our Compliance team to commence new action against this advertiser, to ensure that their advertising is in line with our established guidance in this area.
As your complaint is substantially similar to that which led to the adjudication being upheld, and the Compliance team have agreed to contact the advertiser, we will not investigate your complaint further. The Compliance team will not be able to respond to you directly, but please be assured that they will look to take action if the advertiser is unwilling to bring their advertising in line with our guidance. You can read more about our Compliance process here.
I will be watching the Narconon Scotland Website closely, to see if any changes are made.
Update 25 th November 2014 – This website is now in apparently permanent ‘maintenance mode’, and unavailable. Luckily I saved it to The Wayback Machine (an Internet Archive) and it can be viewed here.
The text of my complaint was was based on the detained rules laid down in the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (AKA the CAP Code ) which can be downloaded here.
It provides that claims made in advertisements must (among other things) not be contrary to the best available scientific knowledge, or denigrate existing medical practice. This means that the claims made by Narconon are a happy hunting ground for critics.
The claims made in this website are contrary to the following rules listed in the CAP code:
12.1 The claims made are not backed by trials or available scientific knowledge.
12.3 The person offering this treatment on the website is not medically qualified http://getoffdrugs.org.uk/introduction-3/
12.6 Drug dependence could be characterised as an illness &/or dysfunction. This product falsely claims to cure it
12.9 The treatment requires the ingestion of vitamins in overdose quantities. It therefore encourages consumers to “use a product to excess”.
12.11 The vitamins supplied are claimed to essential for a medical treatment (drug withdrawal) and are therefore presented as a medicine. The proposed treatment requires them to be taken at doses which exceed the recommended limits.
12.14.1 Alarming images related to drug use are used on the sites home page http://www.getoffdrugs.org.uk
When read as a whole, the site presents itself as a means for people with a drug dependency problem to undergo withdrawal at home in such a way as withdrawal symptoms are minimised. The treatment that is described is contrary to all currently available scientific knowledge, and potentially dangerous.
Detoxification should only be undertaken with prescription medicines under medical supervision. The method promoted and sold by the advertiser runs the risk that the person following the programme would experience convulsions and delirium at home, and become a danger to himself and others.
The site contains many examples of claims that are contrary to present scientific knowledge. There is only room here for a selection:
1 It claims that vitamins and minerals can alleviate the symptoms of withdrawal from “Cocaine, crystal meth, speed and other stimulants”
2 It claims that a mixture of calcium carbonate, magnesium carbonate and cider vinegar “[..] has proven effective in helping to handle muscular spasms, ticks and nervous reactions that can occur as a result of drug withdrawals”.
3. The withdrawal programme includes the use of ‘assists’. This a form of ‘healing touch’ which relatives/friends are expected to apply to the person undergoing withdrawal after reading ‘course materials’ describing the procedure. This practice has no scientific basis.
4 The page http://getoffdrugs.org.uk/news-3/ contains these two passages,
“Sometimes a self determined decision is made to quit and the person will prepare himself to get off drugs or alcohol at home and grit his teeth at the forthcoming withdrawals. However, one, maybe two (if he’s lucky) days pass with great suffering and he will give into his cravings just to stop the pain.
He knows he needs help with drug addiction or help with alcoholism but statistically we find that as much as 5 years will go by and he will carry on in the same cycle before he seeks help with drug addiction or help with alcoholism”.
No evidence is presented to support the implied claim that the organisation has statistical evidence that is suggested, and it is doubtful that the organisation is in possession of such evidence.
“Sometimes addicts are prescribed Methadone and can be on this for years as a substitute, but this is not an adequate solution. Psychotherapy and medication is equally impossible”.
This copy clearly denigrates accepted medical practice, and implies that the advertiser’s solution is superior.
Additionally, one page on the site encourages potential customers to submit contact details and personal information regarding their use of drugs of abuse (many of which are illegal to possess).
This information could potentially be used to exert improper pressure on the respondent. Also, Narconon Scotland is not listed on the Data Protection Public Register.
The web address getoffdrugs.org.uk is registered to Narconon Scotland
However, the company does not identify itself on the site, and does not provide any means of contact except a web form (which conceals the email address it is sent to). Even the terms and conditions section http://getoffdrugs.org.uk/home-3/terms-conditions/ does not provide the advertiser’s company name, address, telephone number or email address.
Previous versions of the website in question have been saved by the Internet archive site the “Wayback Machine” and can be accessed at
Also, I have made an offline copy of the site, as it stood on the 19th of August 2014, to my own computer which I would be pleased to provide if required.