A growing body of evidence suggests that America's opioid addicts are being victimized twice — first by the industry that helped get them hooked and then by the industry that purports to rehabilitate them. Across the country, business has exploded at addiction-treatment centers that gladly take the money of addicts and their families while the owners reap millions of dollars in profits.
Scam operations abound, making it difficult for addicts and their families to find accurate information about quality treatment centers. Treatment for substance-abuse disorders has been largely unmonitored in comparison to other medical conditions. Vulnerable patients and their families continue to be exploited for profit, as Reveal, a radio program by the Center for Investigative Reporting, has exposed over the past year.
Before leaving office, Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri led the way in holding the opioid industry accountable for the lives ruined by addictions that the industry nurtured. Instead of grandstanding behind meaningless, silly causes, McCaskill's Republican successor, Sen. Josh Hawley, should devote his energies to investigating scam treatment centers and shutting them down. His rural Missouri base is rife with victims of these abuses.
One of the most corrupt forms of this deceit is called patient brokering. Treatment centers bid for patient referrals and leads. Call centers generate commissions based on referrals. Agents posing as caregivers auction off patients to the highest-bidding treatment center. Commercials with these phone numbers appear on television at all hours of the night and day.
Some residential treatment facilities offer expensive yet bogus treatment in the form of spas that do nothing to address the actual addiction. These luxury rehab centers can cost between $8,000 and $100,000 a month and include many amenities but lack valid treatment plans.
Many rehabilitation centers profit by overbilling insurers for unnecessary treatment or services. Others offer bizarre tough-love programs where addicts are required to perform minimum-wage work for employers like Walmart, Shell and Coca-Cola. The addicts' paychecks go to the treatment center, not the person doing the work. The work itself does nothing to advance the recovery process. More often, it exposes addicts to other addicts and eases their access to sources of illicit drugs.
There are at least 300 work-based rehabilitation centers across the country. Addicts looking for treatment effectively become indentured servants.
Oversight problems abound with these and other rehabilitation programs. Most states do not require licensing, and there are no federal standards for counseling and treatment practices. There is no regulation mandating evidence-based care. Safeguards are minimal to keep patients safe and free of exploitation.
A federal crackdown is long overdue. If senators such as Josh Hawley are looking for a way to rehabilitate his tattered image and get credit for actually doing something good in the world, this would be an excellent place to start.
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