Are You Being Scammed by an Addiction Recovery Center?

Jan 22, 2020

According to a 2017 Pew survey, nearly 1 out of every 2 adults in the U.S. has a close friend or family member who is or has been addicted to drugs. The survey looked for variations on that statistic among people of different ages, party affiliations, education levels, race, and gender. However, it stayed pretty consistent across the board.

Alcohol is still the most prevalent source of addiction, but opioid addiction has had a meteoric increase in the last couple of decades. According to the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control, 70,000 people died from a drug overdose in 2017, and two-thirds of those deaths were linked to opioids. The Department of Health and Human Services shows that the opioid epidemic, a problem that was barely on our radar in the 1990s, is now taking more than 130 lives per day. You can learn more about what is to blame for this tragic increase in opioid addiction deaths, here.

If you or someone you know is affected by the opioid crisis, it’s important to get treatment, but finding the right providers can be a challenge. As the opioid epidemic has grown, so, too, has the addiction recovery industry. (It’s now worth about $35 billion.) And like many industries, it is filled with some competent and ethical players and some corrupt ones.

An Ethical Crisis in Addiction Recovery
It seems unconscionable to pray on someone in crisis, yet that is happening in the addiction recovery world. Here are some known scams:

  • Patient brokering—A broker poses as a resource for patients and refers them to facilities in exchange for kickbacks. (Ex: A company posing as an addiction recovery helpline is really collecting data to sell as leads to treatment facilities.)
  • Misleading websites—Rehab centers may set up landing sites that appear to be objective and educative but are really designed to push leads toward a specific facility.
  • False advertising—Addiction recovery programs make false promises such as 28-day fixes, giving people false expectations for rehabilitation that could take months or even years.
  • Misrepresentation—Companies falsely claim to offer levels of care that they are not equipped for. For example, an outpatient “sober home” may present itself as an inpatient treatment center.
  • Gimmicks—Companies woo in patients with promises of luxurious treatment settings with spa-like features but are not equipped to properly address treatment and recovery.

These unethical tactics can end with people paying top dollar for treatment that does little to lift them from their current crisis. It also gives the entire industry a bad name, causing people to stigmatize all treatment centers as shady. This blanket mistrust can keep people from connecting with the legitimately good treatment centers that could help them overcome their addictions and move on productively with life.

So How Can You Get Good Help?
Whether you are seeking help for yourself or a loved one, here are some tips for detecting bad actors in the industry and finding your way to those professionals who can offer the treatment that you need.

  • Avoid too-good-to-be-true offers. Offers to pay for travel fees or to cover your insurance co-pays or deductibles are illegal in many states. These may be gimmicks of unethical companies promising whatever is necessary to get you in the door.
  • Avoid generic offers. Websites or advertisements that can’t identify the specific rehabilitation programs that they represent may just be patient-brokers looking to get your information and sell it to the highest bidder.
  • Avoid out-of-state offers. If you get a phone call or direct mail piece from an out-of-state provider, proceed with caution. A lot of these companies will offer to fly you in for treatment, but they may not be in your insurance network. These out-of-network charges allow them to pad their profits by billing insurance companies more.
  • Ask what kind of patient records they will need. A good treatment facility should ask to see your records from previous therapists; this allows them to craft an appropriate treatment plan for you. If they don’t ask for this information, it may be a sign that they are not set up to deliver the kind of personalized treatment that you need to overcome your addiction.
  • Ask about treatment plan customization. As an extension of the tip above, find out how the program that you’re considering will adapt to the specific needs of your loved one. There is no one-size-fits-all rehabilitation for drug addiction. Centers should be able to accommodate your loved one’s mental health needs, medical history, culture, past experiences (to include trauma), and any other factors that may affect their addiction.
  • Be suspicious of expensive lab tests. Some treatment centers make their profits by claiming that they need to administer lab tests on a frequent basis—sometimes even daily. There is rarely a need for this kind of frequency, and it may be a way for them to get more money from your insurance company.
  • Find out the ratio of staff to patients. The lower the ratio, the better.
  • Ask about staff certifications. Are the counselors certified with chemical dependency credentials? And do they have the certifications necessary to deal with other mental health issues? Is there a doctor on staff? If so, are they certified by the American Society of Addiction Medicine?
  • Inquire about family involvement. Make sure that the program includes counseling and support for families, since, in most cases, they will be the primary source of support for the patient following treatment. Ensure that patients are not released without an after-care plan designed specifically for the family and based on the patient’s needs and the family’s dynamics.
  • Ask about cost. You don’t want financial surprises, so find out exactly what your insurance plan will and won’t cover. Questions may include:
    • Are you an in-network provider with my insurance?
    • If so, are all services covered?
    • Will I have co-pays? If so, how many and how much?
    • If you are not in-network with my insurance, what costs will I be responsible for?
  • Consider follow-up treatment. In addition to finding out what the program will do for your loved one here and now, find out what they offer after treatment is finished. Is there ongoing counseling or accountability for the patient? What about their family? What kind of help is available if the patient relapses?

Dealing with drug addiction is difficult enough. The treatment facility should be helping you and your loved one through this traumatic experience—not making it even harder. The good news is that great programs exist, and they can help your loved one overcome their addiction. Do your homework and ask the right questions to avoid ill-equipped and/or underhanded treatment facilities and find the help that can steer your loved one toward a bright future.

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Are You Being Scammed by an Addiction Recovery Center?

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