The Orange County Register has spent more than a year investigating the drug rehab industry in Southern California in a series dubbed Rehab Riviera — so named for the greater Los Angeles area that now hosts more than 1,000 licensed rehab facilities. That figure does not include the thousands of unregulated “sober living” homes currently engulfing residential communities in the area. With nearly 50 articles and counting, the newspaper has worked to expose a system that not only exploits addicts, it sometimes kills them.
Loose regulations and lack of direct oversight from California’s Department of Health Care Services — which allocates only 16 investigators to monitor the some 2,000 licensed rehab facilities in the state — has led to an increase in the number of fraudulent clinics whose owners are more concerned with improving the bottom line instead of providing adequate care to drug abusers.
Rehab operators, some of which are ex-cons or doctors with suspended medical licenses, exploit the needs of drug addicts by billing insurance companies (which are required to cover costs for drug addiction therapy under the Affordable Care Act) for excessive and sometimes medically-unnecessary services. Per the Department of Health and Human Services, in 2016 American taxpayers spent approximately $35 billion on addiction treatment — a number that is expected to climb to $42 billion by 2020.
Crafty marketing professionals and real estate owners have taken notice of the billions generated by treatment-seeking addicts. Motivated by referral kickback fees paid by drug clinics, marketers use anecdote-based pitches devoid of any objective data to convince drug addicts from across the country to fly to California for treatment because insurance coverage is guaranteed there.
Throngs of out-of-state addicts are then housed in “sober living homes” where they function, in the legal sense, as a family. Real estate owners looking to maximize return on investment lease residential property to sober living home operators who gladly pay inflated rent prices in order to house profit-generating drug addicts.
The influx of drug addicts into residential communities has increased homelessness, strained municipal services, and dampened the quality of life for native Californians. Moreover, because drug and alcohol addicts are protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act, unhappy neighbors of sober living homes are left with few options for legal recourse.
Despite record spending for addiction treatment, representatives for the drug addiction industry argue that costly legal fees and overregulation has made it difficult for California’s clinic owners to turn a profit while exercising ethical business practices.
Detractors contend that more regulation and oversight of the industry is needed because of rampant fraud, poor healthcare outcomes, and the negative impact out-of-state addicts have on communities inhabited by native California residents.
In the middle are addicts who simply want help getting clean. Instead, they are sexually assaulted (the No. 1 consumer complaint against rehab centers is related to sexual assault, according to one article), given drugs to keep them in a never-ending cycle of treatment and addiction, and even killed — sometimes by their own hands in desperation or because the facilities lacked proper medical care and training.
Read all of the Orange County Register coverage here.