This the third installment of our ongoing look into the drug rehabilitation industry in the United States and the continued use of body-brokering through "drug rehab recruiters".
You can read part 1 here:
And Part 2 here:
Some call themselves “addiction placement specialists,” or “marketers,” while others are “drug rehab recruiters”. In the healthcare industry, patient brokers are often referred to as “runners,” “steerers” and “cappers.” There is no regulatory code of ethics to abide by this profession. While some of these recruiters may operate on their own personal ethics, legitimately wanting to help others by getting them into treatment, others perform the job with undeniably questionable morals.
When the intention is to make money for a drug rehab facility, all morals and ethics can easily be thrown out the window. When someone has a kid who’s about to die from a drug overdose, the family will often resort to any means necessary to get their loved one into a treatment program. They’re desperate and vulnerable. Many recruiters realize this and take advantage of the urgency in their circumstances.
Abandoning all rationality when faced with a dangerous situation happens all too often. Sometimes people won’t even research a rehabilitation facility before they choose to spend tens of thousands of dollars there. The internet is littered with stories of parents, spouses, family members, and friends who were naïve at this point in their lives. They thought all treatment was the same, they didn’t know an entire sub-group of ‘bad actors’ had popped-up to swindle them. They didn’t know their loved one could die, while actually trying to get treatment for their addiction.
Some individuals who legitimately want their recovery from addiction to be successful, end up getting swept up into this rehab/sober home/relapse/back to rehab shuffle. Yet, others undeniably know exactly what’s going on and they’re just along for the ride. In far too many cases, navigating the rehab shuffle has essentially become a way for them to get a free ride in life.
Typically, your insurance will cover everything at the rehab then you’ll move on to the sober living home. The sober living arrangement has long been a great source for referrals to the addiction treatment industry. Some drug rehab companies even own their own network of sober living homes. While some of these can and do help people recover from their addictions, others operate a kind of relapse mill where, (in rare, yet not uncommon instances) they encourage their residents to relapse. Some sober living homes are known as flop-houses, where drug activity is well-known and intentionally ignored. Once the residents relapse, they can go back to rehab, for free and the company makes money, hand over fist. All of this is just lining the pockets of the bad actors in the rehab industry, at great cost to the American health care system and sometimes costing people their lives.
Now you see that this problem hasn’t gone away with the passage of new laws, what is the next step? How do we resolve this crisis? How do we separate the good treatment providers from the swindlers? These are all fantastic questions that need urgent action.
What is legal does not necessarily mean it is moral. Much of the patient brokering practice is a market response to the high supply/low demand for addiction treatment. Maybe creating a world in which drug use isn’t glamorized on full display is one way to start. We see the need for access to treatment services any time you visit low-income, poverty-stricken areas of major American cities. Addressing the root causes of poverty, mental illness and substance abuse is never a bad place to start.
The demand for treatment is there, the need is there, so why is it hard for addiction treatment programs to keep their doors open? I would argue that the sheer toxicity of greed that has run rampant is largely to blame. The nefarious practices of body brokers, rehab recruiters, and insurance fraudsters have given a bad reputation to the entire substance abuse treatment industry. It’s no wonder that the internet is filled with stories of parents who lost their children due to a drug overdose death, while they were away, supposedly getting treatment for their addiction.
The people who enter treatment, with no intention of recovering also make it harder for people who actually want to quit using drugs or alcohol to get the help they need. Think of all the wasted time, money, and resources that go into the rehab shuffle. Many times the pursuit of profits blinds the world to the legitimate needs of people who need help the most.
Treatment specialists, drug rehab clinicians, even drug rehab owners and operators have come forward to speak out against the unethical practices of others in the treatment industry. It’s not just parents and family members of lost loved ones. Though most internet forums spend a lot of time just pointing fingers at bad-actors in the industry, some have come up with more constructive ways of dealing with the problem from the inside out.
Valid Resource is a marketing and advertising firm from Lake Forest, California that focuses its efforts exclusively on reputable addiction treatment establishments. They run the marketing aspects of evidence-based, ethical drug rehab locations all across the United States. They understand that no one addict is the same and everyone should have an individualized treatment program formulated by medical professionals, to meet their unique needs.
Ethics in Treatment is a website where patients can go to report abuses and unethical or illegal activities within the treatment industry. The stated intent of the website is to: “identify and avoid bad-doers in the space of addiction treatment.” The resources & Reporting tab on the website lists all laws regarding the drug rehabilitation industry and agencies to report abuses too, when applicable.
A regional ethics commission in the Washington D.C. area called the DMV-PLA (DC, Maryland, Virginia Professional Liaison’s Association) is an agency of mental health and substance abuse treatment professionals who abide by a strict code of ethics. Their stated primary purpose is: “to provide support, encouragement, mentorship, education, and networking opportunities for our members while continuing to foster a collaborative and transparent atmosphere.”
Ultimately, when it comes to unethical practices in the addiction treatment industry, good people need to come together to fix the problem. No one governmental agency, politician, marketing firm, or group of concerned parents is going to fix all the complex, nuanced issues facing the addiction treatment industry. The time to demand change is now, it is urgent and it is not going to go away on its own.