We have detailed often in our blog the concerns individuals and families should have regarding the often deceitful, underhanded, unethical, and illegal tactics employed by many individuals and treatment centers related to acquiring clients online through marketing and social media tactics. Many articles have been written recently about patient brokering, client acquisition strategies used by treatment centers, and the online mining of patient brokers and treatment center marketers within Facebook parent and family support groups and pages.
However, today we are going to look at other techniques employed by addiction treatment and recovery predators that are often in the form of either individual and independent patient brokers or treatment center marketers: Recovery superstars, social media recovery influencers, and “Momketers.”
It’s important to point out, once again, that the addiction treatment field is a loosely affiliated, poorly regulated industry. Like other fields with such issues, while there are many high quality, ethical addiction and mental health treatment centers and organizations providing world class care for patients and families, there are still many, many other people taking advantage of those suffering from addiction, their families, and their communities. Furthermore, due to the stigma surrounding addiction, we as a society still do not see addiction in the same class of chronic health diseases as other medical conditions. People impacted by addiction are often scared or ashamed to discuss these issues openly, and thus many people seeking help turn to possibly the worst possible option: The internet. And the web has become a breeding group and lucrative platform for those looking to make a buck off of addiction to prosper, to fleece unsuspecting victims, and to shroud their shady behavior behind a shield of personal recovery or inspiration. Individuals and families must take responsibility in becoming educated consumers, learning about addiction, treatment and recovery, and then seek out help from qualified professionals with an understanding a patient’s clinical needs, that can ultimately help them navigate this all-too-often confusing and overwhelming process.
Recovery Superstars and Addiction Recovery Influencers
Over the last several years, the trend of “social media influencer” has gained popularity in society. In general, a social media influencer is a user on social media platforms who has established credibility in a specific industry. A social media influencer has access to a large audience and persuades others by virtue of their reach through those different platforms. They are often paid by companies to endorse or promote products. While this type of person would seem blatantly out of place in a healthcare field, the idea of “social media recovery influencers” has gained traction, as many treatment centers have begun to pay actual social media influencers to promote their treatment centers, or hired marketers to do the same, often without mentioning they work for a specific treatment center. Additionally, cropping up on Facebook and Instagram are many “recovery superstars”, people in recovery attempting to gain fame and fortune through numbers of followers. These people are often contracted by or even employed by treatment centers to use their influence or direct people to treatment through their pages. These pages are often generic pages of the person with generic posts that include spiritual or inspirational quotes, or often quotes attributed to the individual but are all too often generic recovery sayings or platitudes stolen from within the rooms of the 12 Step community with some slight edits. Recovery superstars or social media recovery influencers talk often about “helping others” or “breaking the stigma” surrounding addiction and mental health. However, the truth of the matter is there is virtually not a single one of these individuals not in some way associated with a treatment center, either directly or indirectly. These individuals, sometimes not even in recovery, struggling with their own addiction issues, or newly sober, are being paid by rehabs to create a large audience and use these pages to filter patients to treatment. There are several issues with this. The first is lack of transparency. If someone is employed by a rehab, that person should be upfront about their employment. That yes, they may be helping others, but they are doing so on the basis of it is their job and their priority is not to find a person the right help for that individual, but rather to get that person into the treatment center that employs them. The second problem is that these people are not clinicians, and therefore not well-versed in making clinical recommendations. They may not have the first clue as to what clinical needs a person has, and thus, even if they wanted to, could not make a proper referral. Addiction and mental illness are complex health issues that need to be adequately assessed and then a referral based on a client’s individual clinical needs must be made. Let’s make sure we are not allowing someone to do that simply because they say that they are in recovery and have a Facebook page with 100,000 followers, many of whom have been purchased through Facebook.
America’s addiction epidemic has impacted millions of people, not just directly, but indirectly. Many of these are parents of those suffering from substance use disorder and mental health. Many parents have been brought into the madness that is having an addicted child. Many parents have lost a child to a drug overdose, and many others have consistently dealt with the revolving door of putting their child through rehab time and time again. In an effort to make a difference, many parents have taken up the cause of addiction, speaking up about their child’s struggles in order to break the stigma of mental health and addiction, creating foundations that offer education, community support, and financial aid for those that cannot afford addiction treatment, or developing other strategies or movements to overall positively impact the addiction crisis. First, let us say, there are many, many mothers that have been impacted, taken up the flag of fighting addiction, and continue to do so honestly, ethically, and objectively. There are many mother’s that continue to positively impact the opioid crisis and addiction epidemic by ethically and altruistically helping families navigate the treatment process, operating independent non-profits that create change, offering unattached funds for those in need, creating programs that receive grants to get Narcan and other recovery support mechanisms in the hands of those that need them, and taking precious time to advocate to local governments for new laws that will positively impact society. However, there is another group of parents, which many have dubbed “Momketers” that have been caught up in the unethical and unscrupulous rackets that often take place in the addiction treatment industry. While we believe that many of these parents began with pure intentions and honest motives to help, they too have been corrupted by many of the unethical treatment operations. Seeing these parents and their efforts to help as a marketing tool to put heads in beds, many treatment organizations now employ these parents as marketers, whether as direct employees or sub-contractors. They use these parents as ways to connect with other parents in need- after all, who can understand a mother’s painful, overwhelming and frustrating process of dealing with an addicted child like another mother? This use of identification is an easy way to lure unsuspecting parents into trusting a mom that is employed by a rehab and getting that parent to steer their child to the treatment center. Often, as with recovery superstars and social media recovery influencers, the financial compensation, employment or connection to that rehab is not upfront or transparent. The mother seeking help believes this is just another mom looking to help, feeling they genuinely are helping without ulterior motives. Many of these momketers create Facebook groups, also similar to recovery superstars or social media recovery influencers, to gain followers, open up conversations, and find potential rehab patients. Some begin non-profits that offer “scholarships” but unsurprisingly only send clients to the rehabs that pay them. Many have dual roles, in one way working at a non-profit under the guise of autonomy and objectivity, while at the same time being employed at a treatment center. Similar to clinicians, while the motives may be pure, it is nearly impossible to operate ethically in such a dual role. Momketers are simply rehab marketers with an angle: I’ve been impacted just like you because I had a child just like you that went through this, so I know what you’re going through. You can trust me. I have your best interests at heart. Ultimately, however, it is impossible to act ethically if there is no transparency. How can a momketer make the best decision for someone in need, when their primary objective is to place a client at a specific rehab? They have no clinical training nor are they even aware of different resources? They simply are being paid to fill beds.
Here are some tips to help you avoid some of these scams and pitfalls when searching for treatment for yourself or a loved one:
- Avoid making a decision to where you or a loved one should get treatment from anyone you meet through a Facebook recovery group or support group. If you do receive a suggestion, make sure to follow up, do your own independent research on the facility, and vet it through a professional that doesn’t work directly at the facility
- Avoid getting rehab recommendations from “famous” recovery people- online recovery personalities, recovery superstars, social media recovery influencers, recovery rappers, recovery comedians, or anything of the sort
- If you speak to one of these people, directly ask if they are employed or receive compensation from a rehab or addiction treatment center
- Avoid Facebook individuals who post things like or have a profile that says “If you need help for addiction, please call me at…”
- Do not take things at face value. If you receive suggestions, seek out independent professionals to get accurate information. Find a local therapist that works in addiction. Ask them who they use and refer people suffering from addiction to when a client needs treatment. If you call one of the recommended rehabs from one of these online personalities, don’t just take the word of the person or someone in admissions. Ask to visit the facility and see if for yourself. Ask to speak to someone in leadership or a clinical director or supervisor. Learn more about the program.
- Do not agree to send a loved one far away from treatment because that’s what the social media superstar recommends. Destination treatment is unnecessary. Find a rehab that meets your loved one’s clinical needs that is within driving distance, UNLESS there are specialized services your loved one needs. It is true that many states do not have a wealth of quality services or may not have treatment that specializes in the issues your loved one is suffering from. However, you won’t know what those services are until they receive a proper evaluation or assessment from a professional. At which point, if treatment is needed away from your home area, there will be a very specific reason that you understand, and that professional can make a proper recommendation that you can further investigate by talking to the specific center.
- STOP TREATING ADDICTION DIFFERENTLY THAN OTHER HEALTH ISSUES. You would not send your daughter with Stage 4 cancer to a hospital simply because some guy with 100,000 followers from India on Facebook recommended it, would you? Would you send your son with heart disease 1500 miles away to a place you’ve never seen and a doctor you’ve never met because a recovery rapper told you so?
Addiction is a very serious, complex, potentially fatal illness that requires comprehensive evidence-based therapeutic and medical care. Please consider this when seeking treatment for a loved one. Avoid online recovery personalities, recovery superstars, social media recovery influencers, and momketers. You would never seek out help for other potentially fatal medical conditions in such a way, and we as a society and as local communities need to begin to understand we must stop doing so for addiction and mental health. People are dying. This is a serious pandemic of addiction that we are dealing with. We need to understand the seriousness of it and begin making decisions for the treatment of our loved ones with the same gravity and earnestness.
If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, 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. Please give us a call at (410) 773-0500 or email our team at [email protected]. For more information on all of our drug addiction, alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorder services and recovery resources, please visit our web site at www.marylandaddictionrecovery.com.