It is a well-known fact that over the course of the last several years our country has found itself in the grips of the worst addiction epidemic in American history. Numerous factors such as pharmaceutical companies’ marketing tactics and doctors’ overprescribing of opioids (prescription pain medication), all taking place within our current instant-gratification society, have brought the country to the breaking point now faced by every community nationwide.
Parents and families find themselves in fear and crisis, often uneducated and not knowing where to turn to find the help vitally needed for their children and young adults.
Unfortunately, the opioid crisis has become the breeding ground for numerous unethical people to prey upon the fears of families. Addiction treatment has become big business and a family in crisis or an individual suffering from addiction are now commodities.
Marketing companies’ call centers and even many treatment centers have engaged in immoral and sometimes even illegal behaviors in order to lure potential patients through their doors, offer sub-standard care for the purpose of making money off their insurance. Addiction treatment is often the Wild West in terms of the healthcare services industry – often unregulated and with many states having poor oversight due to understaffed government organizations.
While years ago addiction treatment was a small industry run by a dedicated few – often people in recovery themselves or clinicians with a heart to help those suffering from addiction – over the last decade the industry has caught the eye of Wall Street. Large organizations and venture capitalist companies have entered the picture, putting bottom-line profits ahead of patient care.
Beware of corrupt, predatory and illegal practices
One well-known corrupt behavior is patient brokering, where treatment centers pay brokers a fee in order to gain patients. Each patient has a price tag and brokers are paid for sending kids to specific treatment centers. The brokers, typically people with no training or clinical expertise, sell patients to treatment centers regardless of how clinically appropriate that rehab may be to meet the needs of the patient.
Illegal enticements by patient brokers or even directly from treatment centers are another example, sometimes offering free plane tickets to fly patients to treatment or offering free rent at recovery or sober homes if a person is enrolled in a specific outpatient program.
Many treatment centers utilize online marketing tactics including posturing online as inpatient or residential treatment while they are actually an outpatient treatment facility with sober living which is a much less intense and restrictive level of care.
Online marketing tactics also include treatment centers setting up generic looking websites and call centers and “Help Lines,” posturing as objective but with the purpose of steering families and patients toward a specific facility that owns them or selling those patient leads to the highest bidding treatment center.
There has also been a recent trend of treatment centers hacking into the online listings of other facilities and changing the contact information, so when a family or individual attempts to call a specific rehab for help they instead reach someone else who redirects them to their facility.
I see this every day.
All of these predatory practices within the addiction treatment industry are something that I see and hear about on a daily basis. Not a day goes by that I or someone on our admissions team doesn’t receive a call from a parent or family member regarding a horror story they’ve experienced with their loved one dealing with an addiction treatment center or industry-related individual. This is both heartbreaking and infuriating.
Parents complain that the experience they were expecting for their child was nothing like what actually occurred. They report that there was little to no interaction with the treatment center when their loved one was there and they received no explanation for how or why certain situations were handled. They complain about receiving enormous bills after the treatment episode, for toxicology tests, treatment services and other ancillary services. And they have every right to complain and be outraged.
The truth is that within the addiction treatment field there are many good quality treatment providers that go above and beyond for those in need and their families and continually put patient care first.
If your child was diagnosed with a potentially fatal illness like cancer or heart disease, you wouldn’t jump at the first option, would you? You wouldn’t send them across the country to a place you’ve never seen simply because they had a sleek website and sounded nice on the phone, would you? No. You would make sure the facility was vetted thoroughly. You would ask other professionals for their recommendations of that hospital. You might ask family and friends if they had any experience with that specialist or facility. You would go with your child to meet the hospital and staff and make sure everything meets your standards.
Unfortunately, this isn’t so with addiction.
Because the crisis occurs and the stigma exists, the natural inclination of parents and loved ones is to not talk about it with their friends and rather to simply find the first place that seems nice and that will immediately get their child in the door so that mom and dad can finally sleep at night, knowing their child is safe. This is understandable, but it has created an environment where the unethical, unscrupulous and dishonest prey upon the scared and helpless.
What can parents do?
The best way that parents and families can protect themselves and make sure they are sending their loved one to an ethical, quality treatment providers that best fits their child’s needs is to become an informed and educated consumer. This can guard you against being taken advantage of during these anxious times.
1. Be wary of information you find via an online search.
All you will find is an overload of information on treatment centers, all with great websites claiming to do everything for everybody. Instead, ask questions. Reach out to local professionals, therapists or other addiction specialists in your area. They will be able to give you a better understanding of the issues your child is suffering from and thus what types of clinical services will best meet their needs. Is this simply addiction – or are there other mental health issues at play? Is there trauma? Grief and loss? Are they dealing with gender issues? Behavioral issues? Every case is different, which it is why it is imperative to understand what the issues are in order to find the best clinical fit for your child.
2. Vet the treatment center you’re considering.
Use your consumer education skills that you would use in any serious health care decision. Trust your judgment and your feelings about the answers you get from the people you talk to. Here are some things to consider:
- Are they transparent?
- Is their staff listed on the website, with their experience and qualifications?
- Are they easily accessible to answer your questions? Make sure to listen to what they are saying. Are they just telling you what they want to hear? Treatment for addiction is uncomfortable, for both the child and family. If a treatment center is explaining themselves and their programs to you, listen to see if they explain why they do what they do and what is the rationale behind their practices.
- Ask about their clinical philosophy. Every treatment center should be able to explain this, the philosophy behind their decision-making and ultimately their patient care.
- Ask about their programs and what they entail. If they say they offer detox, make sure that means an actual detox with 24-hour medical care. If they say they are residential, what does that look like?
- Ask about licensing and accreditation (although be careful if they sell themselves too much on their accreditation, as many centers hire consultants that basically walk them through the accreditation process.)
- Ask if the program uses a published assessment tool. Assessment is the cornerstone of the decision-making process from which all else should flow. As you look for a program, check to see if they use an assessment tool that has been tested and found to be reliable and valid versus an assessment that the program designed by itself.
- Because mental health issues often go hand-in-hand with drug and alcohol abuse, it is important that your son or daughter will be be assessed for co-occurring mental health problems.
- Ask them pricing upfront. If they accept insurance, they should be easily able to give you a full amount of what treatment will cost.
- Ask about their urinalysis billing. If they are residential, there should be little need for your loved one to be drug tested more than a few times. If it is an outpatient program, there is a need for drug testing but no more than twice a week at most unless there is suspicion of drug use.
- Listen if the treatment center is trying to sell you on their facility because of the amazing amenities. Single rooms, big-screen TVs and pools are nice, but are not treatment for addiction. Rather, they should be explaining their clinical services.
- Ask if the staff is full time.
- Ask for references.
- If you’re able to, visit the program with your child, meet the staff and make sure everything seems legitimate.
3. Finally and perhaps most importantly, ask about their family program.
Addiction is a family disease and treatment centers need to do more to treat the entire family unit through this process. For too long treatment programs have been neglecting the family and allowing children to be dropped off at their door. The family — parents, sibling and other significant household members such as step-parents — need help learning how to trust again, build healthy relationships with their child or sibling and learn how to function as a family with a child in recovery.
Ask what their family program looks like. For some residential programs, they will offer family education weekends or programs. This is important, but not enough. The family should be involved throughout the entire process of treatment, meaning regular phone calls (sometimes daily), therapy sessions (either in person or via phone or Skype) and support and coaching from the facility. Additionally, the treatment center should make referrals to the family for any needs they may have in terms of therapy, psychiatry or community support services. If the family already see professionals, the treatment center should work in collaboration with them.
The good news for families is that there are amazing, ethical treatment centers across the country that offer high-quality, comprehensive services and hold themselves to the highest of standards. However, with the landscape as it is, parents and families need to be armed with the facts, learn what steps they can take to navigate this process and make sure that their child is finding the best help available to meet their needs.
Addiction is treatable and recovery is possible so the most important part is finding the best place for your child for them to start their journey of healing.