Drug and alcohol addiction and overdose has become a national crisis. Prescription pain relievers, heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl have taken the lives of more than 115 Americans every day, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Alcohol-related causes kill an estimated 88,000 people annually, making it the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Kentucky, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Tennessee and New Mexico are experiencing some of the highest numbers of drug overdose deaths in the country, with Florida, Arizona and Virginia also seeing heartbreaking numbers.

On the heels of this epidemic, a new industry has emerged – one designed to capitalize on the desperation of those who seek to break free from the clutches of addiction. Poorly run, profit-focused drug treatment centers and unregulated sober homes are popping up all over the country, creating a world of nefarious patient recruiters, drug-testing mills, and blatant health care fraud. 

Drug treatment centers

Such facilities have no clear definition, and licensing requirements and government oversight can vary by state.  There are at least two kinds of rehabs: residential, or inpatient, and non-residential, or outpatient. In residential rehabs, the patient with an addiction remains in the facility for a set period (anywhere from a week to three months or more depending on the severity of addiction and ability to pay). Non-residential treatment takes place for a certain period during the day, but the patient returns home at night.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse outlines principles of effective treatment on its website, noting that no single treatment regimen is appropriate for all addicts. A reputable treatment center should offer medically-monitored detoxification, licensed medical staff, behavioral therapists and counselors trained in addiction medicine, as well as medication-assisted treatment drugs such as methadone to help wean addicts off harmful drugs, and follow-up monitoring and therapy.

Unfortunately, many facilities masquerading as treatment centers do none of that. Instead, they fail to do background checks on workers, employing sex offenders, felons and former drug addicts. They provide little-to-no medical care, and therapy performed by trainees rather than experienced therapists. In one California rehab center, the owner is accused of providing drugs to female patients trying to get clean so he could sexually assault them. Providing quality medical treatment and counseling is expensive, and many facilities choose to place profits over people.

Sober living homes

These homes, typically found in residential neighborhoods, are meant to be a place where addicts can live while they are getting clean. Ideally, they should be gender segregated, prohibit drugs and alcohol, and provide transportation to treatment centers and/or recovery support group meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

However, in many states, anyone qualified to be a landlord can open a sober home. Managers do not need credentials of any kind, and often they are recovering addicts or former drug dealers themselves. Sober living home managers charge patients rent and then pay doctors to write prescriptions for costly and complex urine drug tests for which they can then bill patients’ insurance companies as much as $6,000 a pop.

It is not uncommon for sober living home managers to provide drugs and alcohol to prolong addicts’ stay at the home. Another scam is when substances abuse treatment centers pay sober living homeowners a fee to identify residents with private health insurance and refer them to the treatment center. Some states prohibits this practice, which is known as patient brokering, but it happens way too often.

The process

Drug treatment centers and sober living homes use TV commercials, online advertising, telemarketing and third-party recruiters known as “body brokers” to find and convince addicts from around the country to travel to their facilities to get clean. The recruiters identify patients with insurance plans or, in some states (like California) where it is possible to buy and implement an insurance plan in the same day, they will sign the patient up for health care coverage.

Then, unethical operators run up daily medical bills, covering everything from detox monitoring to psychological counseling, while providing almost no care to truly help people get and stay sober. The bills can reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars per patient, according to an Orange County Register investigation.

Why do they do this?

Money. Drug treatment centers and sober living homes have become a billion dollar industry.

The Affordable Care Act, along with the federal Mental Health Parity Act passed in 2008, ensured people suffering from addiction could get the care they needed. The two laws required insurers to cover substance abuse treatment, barred companies from rejecting those with preexisting conditions, and allowed young people to stay on their parents' insurance until age 26.

Also, cities and counties can’t ban sober living houses because the residents – like patients in licensed rehab centers – are legally protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act. So people with little or no credentials can open facilities with lax government oversight and make thousands – if not millions – of dollars claiming (but typically failing) to help some of the most vulnerable members of society.

In just one of many examples, a rehab facility owner in South Florida, a psychiatrist and two employees were indicted for bilking more than 80 insurance companies out of $31.3 million in bogus drug tests alone.

What can you do?

Utilize The National Institute on Drug Abuse principles of effective treatment to evaluate any treatment center you may be considering. NIDA also provides a handbook called Seeking Drug Abuse Treatment: Know What to Ask that gives guidance on finding the right treatment center. With that information in hand, you can visit The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website for a listing of treatment centers in your area.

You can also visit the American Society of Addiction Medicine’s website for a listing of how and where to find addiction specialists.

If you are using private insurance to pay for care, monitor your bills closely and question large fees and repeat tests.

Finally, know the signs of a drug rehab center injury.

Drug rehab facility injuries can include:

  • Relapse
  • Untreated withdrawal symptoms
  • Lack of supervision
  • Physical assault
  • Rape
  • Staff/patient sex
  • Infection and diseases
  • Forced prostitution
  • Overdose
  • Suicide attempts
  • Patient brokering or patient shopping
  • Insurance fraud
  • Staff giving alcohol or drugs to patients 
  • Death

Wilkes & McHugh files lawsuits against drug rehab centers on behalf of families in need. If you or a loved one has experienced a drug rehab center injury, call 1-800-255-5070 or email us today for a free consultation.

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