Healthy Living

Paid To Care? Addiction Treatment Marketers

Negative news isn’t what I like to bring to the table. That’s not who I am. But this is a topic I have struggled to make sense of, and I’m going to talk about it here, in this space, today.

My Year in the Treatment Industry

It was an easy decision. After my 78 days in treatment, I ended up moving to the town I found recovery in. I didn’t want to be away from the security of my community. Secretly, I had fears that I wouldn’t make it unless I was surrounded by friends and roommates that came out of the same madness that I did. There is a certain connection between people in recovery. It’s like you’ve spent your whole life feeling different and cast aside, and then you find hundreds of people who have lived your story. I’m not gonna lie, it’s refreshing, freeing, and extremely empowering to be around others who are actively pursuing recovery.

I moved back to Port St. Lucie, Florida for this reason. To be where I felt hope could be found.

I took a freelance position with the treatment center where I had once been a client. I became the Director of Outreach Marketing. I already owned my own web development company, so it was a simple addition to the rest of my client base. I handled their website, blog posts, created all their marketing materials, and best of all...I got to travel across the United States, speaking at recovery events and meeting others who were passionate about recovery. What could be better?

The Dirty Underbelly of Addiction Recovery

I’m probably naive to a fault. Most of the time, I just worry about myself and what I’m doing. I loved my job, loved the people I worked with, and loved being a part of the solution. And then I started to hear things about certain treatment centers, facility owners and marketers. Weird things.

It actually began when I was in treatment. I would hear clients talking about marketers scouting them out at AA meetings, offering to pay them to switch treatment centers...even offering to pay them to relapse. What? It took a while for my brain to make sense of the dirty side of the recovery industry, but once I started piecing it all together I wanted to vomit. I guess at my age I should realize there is a dirty side to everything. Why? Because people are people, flawed and imperfect. But the truth is, I didn’t know. I didn’t see this one coming.

That’s why I am writing this article, because I want the parents to know. I want people who haven’t been in and out of the revolving doors of treatment centers to understand the unfortunate things that go on. I’m telling you this so you can be careful and really research the treatment facility you are planning on sending your loved one to. There is a game going on out there. It’s not pretty and it has nothing to do with “caring for those struggling.” In fact, it takes advantage of the most vulnerable of our society and tramples them underfoot like a terrible joke.

So here is the deal. This is what I know to be true. I’ll lay it out the best I can.

Money Based Compassion

Some of the marketers, interventionists and individuals who are referring you or a loved one to a treatment center are actually getting paid up to $4,000 per head to do so. Is this compassion? Do these people actually care about the addict? I can’t judge that. I don’t know. But I will say this....If my pastor stood in front of a congregation and said, “You really need Jesus. You can accept Him today by coming to the front” and then later I learned that he was paid $500 for each person who came forward, it would tend to taint the experience a bit. I would wonder if he really cared or if he was just chasing money.

To complicate things even more, we in recovery are taught not to judge others. “Clean up your own side of the street” is a favorite quote in recovery, and it is a valid suggestion. We definitely won’t get anywhere by judging others, but that puts those in early recovery in a very interesting place, doesn’t it? If I was a person operating a shady operation, I could easily manipulate a lot of the clients just by reminding them how wonderful and freeing it was to “only worry about yourself.”

But my Bible tells me an interesting truth. Actually, it was Jesus who said this:

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)

It’s not my job to punish or point out specific people or organizations, and I will not do that here today. But, I definitely will give you the following information as food for thought because I believe everyone should be educated.

Who Are You Talking To?

If you’re looking for help for yourself or a loved one and you reach out to a person that you found online, an interventionist, a peer support person, or a recovery advocate, please pay attention to what they are asking you. If the first question is, “Do you have insurance?” and the conversation is cut short if you do not, they might be a “body broker” just hunting for a person struggling with addiction who has insurance, so they can make a commission off of the situation. This is not to say that it’s wrong for a professional to inquire about your insurance, I am merely saying that there are definitely people who won’t continue to help you if you don’t have insurance.

Are options mentioned? If the individual who is helping you will only refer you to one specific treatment center, they may be making a commission or receiving some sort of compensation for placing you into treatment.

What Are The Laws?

The act of paying for referrals is tricky. In some instances it is completely illegal, while there are still loopholes used by treatment centers. Some places offer bonuses to their employees for each referral who has insurance and stays a certain number of days. Other rehab facilities offer certain employees a commission on cash deposits they collect from family members.

While some of these practices may be legal, I don’t think legal is always equal to “morally right.” I remember the details of a specific person who was in a hotel room shooting heroin. A few of his friends showed up to plead with him about going into treatment. He looked at them and said, “Are you just here because of the bonus you’ll get?”

Much of recovery is based on trust. These are people in desperate situations. They are lost and feel alone. I know, I’ve been there. I had been locked in my bedroom for days, lying in my own funk, with dried vomit stuck to my face and hair when I called my friend, Rhonda. She dropped everything and ran to me. She showed up and put me in the shower. She held me and told me she loved me. She assured me everything was going to be okay. I don’t have a clear recollection of the details of that day, but I know this. Rhonda did this because she loves me.

How would I feel today if I thought she received a check in the mail for helping me get to treatment? What kind of disappointment would I have in humanity if I thought that I was only worth the monetary value I could provide to others.

Silence is Agreement

We live in a sick and cynical world. I try not to be a part of that. I try to live above the thought of all of the evil because negativity can breed more negativity.

But then I think about the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said,

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.”

And I cannot be silent.

These are our sons, our daughters, our husbands, wives and loved ones. I think there is a fine line being walked here, and my only reason for writing this article is to raise awareness.

There are young adults leaving treatment centers hundreds of miles away from their homes (after they were flown in from out of state) and they are ending up on the streets. Yes, they left treatment on their own accord. It was often their own decision, but remember, they are fragile, broken members of our human family, and when they end up on the street so far from home they become vulnerable prey to so many situations. There are also marketers who look for these wandering souls, and if they have insurance, they will offer to split their “commission” with them if they will just go to a certain treatment center for X number of days.

Once their insurance runs out, their value to these parasitic individuals runs out as well.

This, of course, creates a multitude of problems, including having treatment centers that house two populations...People who checked in to get better and people who checked in to “do time” and make some money after 30 days. What does this do to the self-worth of this person? What does it do to the overall client morale in treatment? How many vulnerable clients “went back out” because they were not in a safe environment, but instead were in a place where there were people who were planning their escape?

Sure, I know....Someone is going to say, “Well, there are all kinds of people in the world. If you really want recovery, you’ll get through those situations. God will bring you through.”

This is true. He will. He brought me through. I’m a “one and done.” I went to treatment once. I was serious. I learned. I have not relapsed and I recently celebrated two years clean. But I’m older. I still think about all of the young people I watched leaving treatment centers with just the clothes on their back. Some are no longer alive.

I don’t have the answers and I don’t know what this article will accomplish, except possibly to shed light on a real problem. A problem deeper than body brokering or making commissions for referrals. It is a problem with humanity and the way we look at each other. It is a problem with the value we place on lives.

It is the same spiritual malady that brought us to our knees in active addiction. It just has a different mask.

Bottom line? If you’re looking for treatment, be careful. Pray about your decision. Let God guide you, because regardless of the facility, it is your Creator who does the delivering.

Are all marketers terrible? Absolutely not. I was a marketer for a year and never received a dime of commission for helping struggling individuals find help. Today I am not a marketer. I am a recovery advocate and a sponsor. I still help people find treatment. My Maker pays me abundantly. xo

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Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.