AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Ruling comes in long-running legal battle over a Georgia overdose death


Was the death of Patrick Desmond, a former Marine being treated for addiction at a Narconon clinic in the Norcross area, an "occurrence"? That legal question was finally settled in a California courtroom last week, almost 10 years after the 28-year-old's death from an overdose of alcohol and opiates.

"The neglectful provision of alcohol to and deficient supervision of a patient in rehab leading to the patient's unexpected death constitute an 'occurrence' or 'accident,' the ruling states.

Narconon of Georgia, a drug treatment program with ties to the Church of Scientology, settled a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Desmond's parents five years ago. In their suit, his parents alleged that Desmond got drunk with Narconon employees and then tried heroin for the first time, dying of an overdose. The suit also alleged that Narconon represented that it operated a residential treatment program, although it was licensed only for out-patient treatment in Georgia.

But a legal battle has continued about who should pay the legal tab for Narconon International, which oversees drug treatment programs by state affiliates,  Business Insurance reports. A company that provides insurance for nonprofits refused to pay for Narconon's defense in the Desmond case and in a lawsuit by the family of an Oklahoma woman left in a vegetative state after an overdose. Another insurer that provided overlapping coverage, Western World Insurance Co., sued.

In the Desmond case, Nonprofits Insurance Alliance contended that his death was not an "occurrence" that would trigger coverage. In its ruling, the court found that it was and that Nonprofits Insurance Alliance must pay for Narconon International's defense.

Narconon of Georgia no longer operates treatment programs in Georgia.

Following the lawsuit over Desmond's death and allegations by the mother of another patient that Narconon of Georgia submitted bills for treatment that was not provided, the state began an investigation of the program. That investigation ended in 2013, when Narconon of Georgia agreed to surrender its license without admitting any wrongdoing, AJC reporter Christian Boone wrote in his extensive coverage of the controversies.


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About the Author

Lois Norder is Senior Editor for Investigations in the newsroom at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.