My dad always used to say, “nothing changes if nothing changes.” Over the past year, we’ve seen the mortality rate from drugs and alcohol spike to epidemic levels. People are dying at an alarming rate, so alarming that the CDC recently reported that heroin overdoses now outnumber gun homicides. Just as alarming, we’re seeing news reports, almost on a daily basis, chastising the treatment/sober living industry for substandard care, “body brokering,” unethical marketing practices – and the list goes on and on.
As a person living in long-term recovery from addiction, this angers me. However, from my perspective as an advocate for the recovery community, I’m absolutely disgusted. The fact that treatment operators are using this health crisis as an opportunity – as we continue to walk over dead bodies – to take advantage of what arguably is our nation’s most pressing health challenge is wrong, and something must change.
Recently, a bold approach from a Florida state attorney shed a tremendous amount of light on some of the obstacles the treatment/sober living industry faces. Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg convened a grand jury last month to investigate the deceptive practices of this multi-billion dollar industry that leaves so many of our most vulnerable citizens at the hands of bad actors and shady operators. Pay-for-patient marketing, the misuse of Google key words, rerouting people who are facing life-or-death circumstances to unqualified phone “boiler rooms,” and fraudulent insurance practices are all abuses that need to be examined under a microscope – not just in Florida, but across the entire country.
Since Thanksgiving Day, we’ve seen a severe uptick in overdose deaths in our community. What we’ve been hearing about in the news in Ohio, New Hampshire, and elsewhere has arrived at the heart of the City of Roses, best known for its New Year’s Day Parade and Rose Bowl football game.
Now the Los Angeles area is also known for its high-rate of deaths stemming from alcohol and drug overdoses. As of last year’s reported data from the CDC, more than twice as many Californians die of drug overdoses than are murdered. This may be a tough statistic for my neighbors in Pasadena, CA to swallow, but it’s now a fact – and I see it every day. So no, now is not the time for treatment owners and operators to gouge those on the frontlines seeking a life in long-term recovery. Now is not the time to take advantage of an opioid epidemic that continues to take 91 lives per day.
On the contrary, it is time for those who’ve created a business model leading people into recovery to step it up. Operators in the treatment industry should not only be open, but completely willing to work with law enforcement, community organizations, and district attorneys in their hometowns. We must get rid of the shady operators who’ve turned this industry into a scheme that’s left so many behind.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the many people in this industry leading the way to save lives. There are countless facilities and legitimate sober homes that are unfortunately lost in the midst of the bad headlines and unscrupulous actions of others. They must make their voices heard and join the call to end these unconscionable practices making their way to the front pages of almost every hometown paper. In my opinion, this is the only alternative we have left: reform the system or sit on the sidelines as people continue to die.
Two years ago when I found my way into treatment for substance use disorder, I was lucky enough to stumble upon one of the good ones. It’s not necessarily the fanciest center in America. It didn’t have a pool or “extraordinary view of the Los Angeles skyline.” It did have an operator though who was genuinely in the business of saving lives. Mike Bloom took me in when others looked the other way because of my lack of financial resources. His center didn’t launch an all-out predatory marketing scheme on my family. He was client-focused, not profit-focused. You see, as business owners in the addiction space begin to wake up and understand that ethical and affordable treatment shouldn’t be an anomaly — their profits will skyrocket.
These past few months, public policy leaders and communities from coast-to-coast have heard the rallying cry of the recovery movement. I’ve seen the paradigm shift in how we’re breaking the stigma and ending the silence. Our country has come so far in such a short period of time. But we still have a lot of work to do. It’s time we take this conversation to the next level and address the business of addiction. Recovery treatment shouldn’t be pay-to-play nor should it be up for grabs to the highest bidder on Google. It should be transparent, qualified, and affordable for all who seek it.