A controversial Church of Scientology treatment used on World Trade Center emergency responders is being used in Utah to "detoxify" cops who raided methamphetamine labs in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Utah Meth Cops Project is treating around a dozen former and current police officers at taxpayers' expense, using a regime devised by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard at a Bio-Cleansing Centers of America facility in Orem, Utah.
State Attorney General Mark Shurtleff brought the project west after seeing it used to treat emergency workers in New York who were injured working at Ground Zero following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
More than 800 rescue and recovery workers who had complained of respiratory ailments have been treated at the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project in Manhattan, using funds raised by Scientologists including actor Tom Cruise.
The Hubbard protocol has its critics, despite anecdotal evidence from responders who said the treatment has made them feel better.
"There is no demonstrated efficacy or effectiveness for that protocol," said Raymond Harbison, a professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of South Florida's School of Public Health. "That is, there's no demonstration that that protocol speeds the release of substances associated with meth labs from one's body."
The Utah program — funded with an initial $50,000 grant from the state — is being run in conjunction with a $500,000 study into the causal link between chemicals in meth labs and respiratory ailments suffered by around 110 ailing meth cops in the state.
"Anecdotal stories, to me, is enough, I mean cops who say they couldn't walk up a flight of stairs without stopping to breathe now can," Shurtleff said. "That's pretty good evidence, but we want more scientific evidence, mostly to assist the study in Utah that there is a causal connection."
Dr. Gerald H. Ross, the director of the program, said the use of this treatment on meth cops is a first.
"To most people and to a lot of physicians, [it] sounds like a lot of hokum, but believe me it's not," Ross said. "There's really quite an accumulation of scientific publications that show the reduction of chemical residue in people who have this kind of therapy."
At the Orem clinic, the men take a vitamin cocktail that includes B-3 or niacin and spend 20 to 25 minutes stretching in a 160-degree sauna for a nearly four-hour period to help the body release toxins that may be stored in the body, Ross said.
The program, which has been up and running for a little over a month, is designed for about 30 days of treatment, seven days a week, but it can be modified depending on the patient, Ross said.
"The saying is out there: 'You don't see any old meth cooks' because they're all dead," said Kelly Call, 53, a retired officer with the Utah Department of Public Safety who is participating in the Utah Meth Cops Project. "They don't live; there's got to be a reason for that."
Call said that 27 days of treatment at the Utah Meth Cops Project have curbed his constant headaches, short-term memory loss, tinnitus and Barrett's esophagus, a disorder caused by acid reflux. He blames all his ailments on the meth raids.
"I started back in the mid-'80s, when we didn't even have rubber gloves," Call said. "We went into those with our teeny runners, our cutoffs and our tank tops."
Lt. Al Acosta of the Utah Department of Public Safety blames his muscle tremors, headaches, chest pains and difficulty breathing on the more than 300 labs he's raided in his nearly 20-year career.
He said one whiff of his sweat — with bouquets of ammonia or cat urine, depending on the day — is enough to tell him he's expelling those chemicals.
"Whoever the skeptical people are [should] come here and just take a whiff of the odors that we're putting off," Acosta said. "I don't think we normally smell this way."
But Harbison said it's unlikely the men are sweating out chemicals they were exposed to days, months and even years ago in the meth lab.
"You would not expect the chemicals that are associated with meth labs to stay in your body for that long of a period of time," he said.
Shurtleff said that before he brought the program to Utah, he needed assurances that the officers wouldn't be proselytized by Scientologists. The only Scientologists involved, he added, are fundraisers.
"It's a completely secular program," Ross said.
Scientology only comes up in social banter, Acosta said.
"We make jokes about Tom Cruise coming to visit us," he said.
Shurtleff shirks off any taxpayer worry about the cost of the program. He plans to appropriate an additional $140,000 to complete the treatment for 20 of the worst cases and hopes to raise private money to finance the rest of the treatments for the others.
"Hopefully it will ultimately result in worker's compensation to be authorized for these officers and their families."