This is a plea to legitimate marketers and outreach people within the addiction treatment field. This is not a plea to patient brokers, scammers, unethical marketers and body brokers, because it will certainly fall on deaf ears and do little to change unscrupulous behaviors. However, for those people just entering the addiction treatment field that are members of the recovery community, just wanting to help people in need but may be doing so with little guidance or direction, here is a genuine plea: PLEASE STOP USING SOCIAL MEDIA TO PREY UPON FAMILIES IN CRISIS!

The implementation of the Affordable Care Act allowed millions of more Americans to be covered by insurance for mental health and addiction services. Around the same time, dozens upon dozens of addiction treatment centers opened, many owned and operated by profit-driven individuals or groups unqualified or unskilled in behavioral health and simply looking to cash in on the insurance reimbursements. In addition, the rise of America’s opioid (and overall addiction) epidemic impacted more and more individuals and families. Millions of people were in need of addiction treatment and millions more family members were desperately searching to get their loved ones vital help. What this combination of factors did was create a huge market for addiction treatment services but even more so, it brought out the sharks. Bottom line-based treatment companies with a “heads in beds” approach utilized online, guerilla marketing tactics to grab as many potential clients as quickly as possible. The old ways of developing relationships to make sure patients were directed to quality providers that met their clinical needs were cast aside in favor of a microwave, “get them in the door no matter what” sales approach. This new business-oriented mindset, coupled with a slew of new, unexperienced marketing and outreach treatment center reps being driven by an incentive-based pay structure turned the addiction industry into a free-for-all in terms of ways to attract and “close” potential clients. The natural progression then turned to social media as a platform and opportunity for marketing strategies and ways of finding potential clients.


Social media is a staple now in our society. Just 10 years ago there was no Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest and Facebook was a platform only for college kids to connect on school campuses. However, the power and reach of social media has increased dramatically over those ten years, changing the way we connect globally, communicate, share information and absorb media. As of June 2017, there are 2.01 billion active Facebook users which is an increase of 17% over the same time last year. Social media is powerful, social media has become integrated into our daily lives and social media, with its inherent power and reach and connectivity, has become a place that individuals and families impacted by the grips of addiction turn towards during crisis for connection, safety, help and direction. Because of this, social media (and Facebook specifically) has become a place where those in the grips of crisis due to addiction are regularly preyed upon by treatment “professionals” in order to fill beds, fill quotas and fill census. It has become territory of unethical marketing approaches, not to mention perfect for patient brokering activities. This has to stop!


An important point to note is that social media, when used ethically and by an experienced, informed treatment professional, can be a vital tool in connecting those in need with the clinically-appropriate help they deserve to begin their journey of addiction recovery. Facebook and other social media sites can be platforms to educate, inform, enlighten and connect those in need of resources. It can be a place where families and parents can go to learn information on addiction and recovery or a place where they can find their loved one the help they need. It can be a place where professionals can connect to find clients necessary services. It can be a place where parents that need support and direction can find parents and families that have navigated the minefield of addiction and treatment. It can be a place where those who have lost a loved one to addiction can find solace and healing through others or find a place to grief and process loss. However, more often than not, social media can also become a battlefield where parents, individuals and even some professionals are forced to navigate guerilla marketing and outreach tactics that show little in the way of tact, commonsense, compassion and clinical insight.


Any parent, spouse, sibling or family member that has ever dealt with someone suffering from addiction knows how terrifying it is. Whether it is a surprise situation when a parent just finds out about or it is a family member that has been through the ringer of addiction with a loved one for years (long term use, multiple treatment episodes, perhaps some periods of abstinence or recovery, etc.), the fear, anxiety, terror, frustration, tension, depression, despair and often feelings of loneliness and helplessness are palpable. They become part of everyday living for those dealing with a loved one’s addiction. Trying to deal with these emotions and the life situations and circumstances that occur are difficult to deal with and face. Often, family members feel like they are going through life holding their breath, just waiting for a call about a possible arrest, theft, missed appointment, car accident, overdose or death. They feel helpless and do not know where to turn. Often, they find some comfort and outlet through social media. Thousands of Facebook groups have popped up over the years that offer safe spaces to those dealing with a loved one with a substance use disorder. Online support groups, online parent groups, online grief and loss groups, online professional groups, online resource groups, online addiction and recovery advocacy groups and online communities give parents, families and loved ones what seem like a safe place to turn, to vent, to seek help and direction. And these groups also become the perfect place for treatment centers and marketing reps to identify and prey on families in crisis. Families dealing with a loved one’s addiction want relief, want to get their loved one the best help possible and eventually, want to be able to breathe and sleep knowing their loved one is safe and receiving the necessary help they need. They reach out lost and it can take only seconds or minutes after they post to be contacted by a treatment center marketing or outreach person ready to offer them the opportunity of a lifetime. Families just want some relief from the anguish, so they are easy targets. Uneducated about unscrupulous treatment center marketing tactics and confused about what the right thing is to do for their loved one, the jump at the first option to get their loved one help so that they may finally be able to get a single night’s sleep free of anxiety, worry and tears.


Instead, what many people have found is grandiose assurances, empty results, unethical treatment operators, poor quality of care, false promises and in the worst cases, death of a child or loved one. Marketers, outreach people (many possibly with good intentions but lacking mentorship, oversight or clinical insight) use these social media sites and online groups as a place to find prospective patients. Never mind that it is often impossible to diagnose or assess what clinical care a potential client may need. Never mind that they may have never even spoken directly on the phone with a potential patient. They simply see a family member of a loved one in crisis and know that time is of the essence. The greater the crisis the more likely the family member will be to get that loved one into treatment. NOW. Never mind if the treatment operations are unethical, inappropriate for the client’s clinical needs or offers nothing in the way of quality care. There are quotas to meet and beds to fill! After all, most newly sober people hired as marketers or outreach representatives work on an incentive-based pay structure- the more admits, the more they get paid. This type of mindset or business practice completely takes clinical care and appropriateness or patient needs out of the picture. It simply becomes a numbers game. Your kid needs help, we can get him in. He gets the help he needs and I get paid. But does he? Does he actually get the help he needs?


Please, stop preying on families through social media. Stop accepting clients that are not clinically appropriate. Stop offering plane tickets and other enticements just to get people through the door. Stop surveying social media groups, finding a loved one discussing a crisis situation and then messaging that person privately. Stop randomly messaging people you may know that are in recovery asking “Do you know anyone that needs treatment?” Stop thinking that just because a treatment center may accept a specific insurance that it means that center is a fit for a client’s clinical needs. In fact, STOP ASKING “WHAT INSURANCE DO YOU HAVE?” ON SOCIAL MEDIA! Insurance coverage is not an identifying factor for clinical appropriateness. Just because Johnny’s mother says Johnny has Blue Cross Blue Shield and your treatment center accepts Blue Cross Blue Shield DOES NOT MEAN IT IS A GOOD FIT. There is a ton of information about Johnny that needs to be identified and accessed before making sure any facility will meet the specific needs Johnny has and knowing he has Blue Cross Blue Shield is NOT part of that equation.


Due to the competition in the addiction treatment field, many addiction treatment centers have forgotten how to appropriately market through professional relationship building and community outreach. They have forgotten how to build relationships and communities of providers that they can turn to in order to find the best possible care for a patient and family. They have forgotten how to educate, inform and present the value of their services. Either that or they have just disregarded it altogether for the bottom line and the quick buck. They have forgotten that marketing is not sales and there is no place for sales in addiction. Market your services but make sure you understand that this is not marketing and selling widgets; people’s lives are on the line! This is not a “numbers game.” This is an industry whose sole purpose is to treat a condition that will ultimately end in misery or death if those in need do not get appropriate help. People are not insurance policies. They are human beings and they are families and they are in crisis and do not deserve to be taken advantage of during their darkest moments. Utilizing social media, a place where individuals and families are seeking a safe space, as a pool to pick off potential new clientele is disgusting and it’s wrong. Use it to educate, use it to inform, use it to connect people to resources, use it as a professional platform, use it to help someone find appropriate help but don’t use it as a lead source. Because if you do, you either forgot why you got into this field or else you never had any business working in it in the first place. We are supposed to be helping people and families, not preying on them in crisis and using them for our own selfish ends. As an industry, we need to do better. The individuals suffering from addiction deserve better, their families deserve better and our communities, so ravaged by this epidemic, deserve better from us.


If you or someone you know is in need of help because of drug and/or alcohol abuse or addiction, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs.

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