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Treatment Scams – What to Look Out For

When an addict finally understands their disease and they are ready to seek substance abuse treatment, they are often at their most vulnerable. Similarly, families may have spent years, even decades waiting for this moment. However, one of the hardest choices still remains – which treatment center is best? Unfortunately, along with the hundreds of treatment centers popping up every year, so too has there been an increase in poorly run, clinically inept or unscrupulous facilities. Further, many of these problematic facilities put forth what seems like legitimate, quality marketing, but in fact are nothing like they seem.

Traveling for Treatment

The problem has become so widespread, that the state of Massachusetts has even released an article on how to avoid addiction treatment scams. It seems that so many people from Massachusetts had been lured to Arizona, California or Florida; at facilities that provide virtually no care, that they felt the need to intervene. Read the full article here: https://www.mass.gov/service-details/avoiding-addiction-treatment-scams

Destination Hope’s Take

There are no shortage of patient brokers and marketers peddling falsehoods in the treatment industry. Unfortunately, they typically work from California, Arizona or Florida – 3 states where pleasant weather makes difficult recovery more manageable. However, the article does make a blanket statement about many facilities that are legitimate – and there certainly are many to choose from. Treatment centers like Destination Hope, rooted in clinical excellence and effective treatment have to fight through the mud that less scrupulous treatment centers leave behind. However, we, and many other clinically focused treatment centers are happy to show our worth to any prospective client or family member that wishes to dig deeper .

The Florida Shuffle

Independent brokers may offer those with excellent insurance policies incentives to go to certain treatment centers. After their benefits have been used for that center, they may push them to another facility for further treatment. Of course, this is not for the client’s benefit at all. Ultimately, the patient’s insurance pays tens of thousands of dollars and the benefit to the patient is often questionable. The patient broker typically makes an extraordinary amount of money through commissions and kickbacks. While it is called the Florida shuffle, it happens in just about any area with a high concentration of treatment centers including California, Arizona and New Jersey.

Destination Hope’s Take

The truth is that the Florida shuffle exists – not just in Florida but around the country. Clients with excellent insurance policies are, of course, attractive to any treatment center. There is little question that the treatment facility will be compensated appropriately for the services rendered. But, this also attracts the unscrupulous treatment centers and patient brokers who simply wish to get clients in to a treatment center and get their commission.

It is important to make the distinction between unscrupulous shuffle of clients and the legitimate, important referral process based in clinical need. During your research, you will notice that certain facilities focus on different levels of care or have treatment programs that cater to specific populations. If you contact a treatment center that does not specialize in the treatment that you or your loved one needs, referring out to specialized care is the ethical move and the right thing to do for the client.

Unqualified Sober Homes

Sober homes, also known as halfway houses, transitional living or structured living have proliferated around the country as the need for a step down between treatment and going back into normal life became more necessary. Unfortunately, however, these sober houses quickly realized that lots of money could be made by offering treatment services as well. Many operate as de facto treatment centers when they are grossly underqualified to do so.

Destination Hope’s Take

This trend is alive and well and revolves around the lack of clear guidance and regulation and a lack of enforcement over the treatment industry. It is important to remember that while detox facilities, for example, are licensed with medical practitioners involved, treatment centers have less scrutiny. As a result, sober houses have encroached upon a very specialized and important part of the treatment process. We are making progress, however with several regulatory agencies releasing guidance on how sober homes can be managed. The National Association of Recovery Residences and the Florida Association of Recovery Residences both advocate for the proper role of the sober home. Remember, transitional living can be a very big part of your loved one’s recovery. Do not discount the value of transitional living, rather understand where it should be in the continuum of care and that is separate and distinct from a proper recovery program at a legitimate treatment center.

Finding Legitimate Treatment Centers

We’ve covered some of the potential issues you’ll find in the treatment world, but how do you know if the treatment center you are considering is truly legitimate and able to work with you or your loved one to ensure proper care.

  • If someone tries to recruit you or a loved one to another state, take it with a grain of salt. Ensure that the representative is actually working for the treatment center and not procuring patients alone. Ask them pointed questions about the program’s clinical efficacy and be sure to call the facility directly
  • If you are looking to go out of state for treatment, which can be very beneficial for some clients, it may be worth having a family member preview the facility priority arrival or tag along for admission. While the airfare may be costly, the costs of making the wrong decision can be much greater
  • Check credentials. There are many licenses that a treatment facility can pursue which help offer some level of family some level of confidence that they’re making the right choice. Check the Better Business Bureau, Department of Children and Families, Joint Commission, AHCA, and even LegitScripts which all have a thorough vetting process
  • Talk and ask questions. No legitimate facility will be unwilling to answer any questions that you may have about their legitimacy. We all know how many unethical treatment centers there are in the United States and we relish the opportunity to set ourselves apart. Ask to speak to key employees at the treatment facility and learn more about their treatment philosophy. More often than not you will not only learn good information about the facility itself, but about the process toward recovery
  • Understanding the treatment is not one-size-fits-all. The treatment should have specific programs that offer unique programming for the myriad of manifestations of substance abuse, cultures and populations
  • Ensure that the treatment center has a continuing care program. It may start with detox followed by residential or partial hospitalization – but does the program also have an outpatient program for those who have completed their 90 days of treatment? And what about structured living to transition slowly back to normal life?
  • Question the facility on their practices. Are evidence-based practices the basis of the program and are the professionals of the facility qualified to not only treat substance abuse, but also mental health issues which are often cooccurring?
  • Do they involve the family? Family can sometimes be a cause of the problem, but it’s certainly part of the solution. Facilities that incorporate family therapy along with the individually focused therapy, often show better results

There are, of course, many more metrics by which one can choose a treatment center. Certainly, if you have a bad feeling about the center you’ve chosen, reconsider – there’s often a good reason for that. Most importantly, if you have a loved one in treatment, be supportive and present. They are going through what is quite possibly the worst time of their lives and they will certainly not be enjoying the therapeutic process, at least not at the beginning. Having your support and dedication behind them, especially in the early days, can make the treatment process much more effective.

Similarly, as a family or loved one, being a part of the therapeutic process is critical for their long-term recovery. If your loved one’s therapist reaches out asking you to be a part of the process, we sincerely hope the answer is an emphatic yes. It could mean the difference between a life with or without substances of abuse.


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