American Addiction Centers (AAC) Murder Indictment Sheds Light on Unethical Practices within Addiction Treatment and Demonstrates Need for Due Diligence from Parents and Families seeking Quality help for their Loved Ones
Over the last few weeks, several news stories have made national headlines regarding the (at best) unethical, unscrupulous and (at worst) outright illegal practices taking place throughout the addiction treatment industry. While unsurprising to many that work within the industry of addiction treatment and recovery, these news stories and the dangerous and questionable practices they highlight are horrific to say the least. They also need to be brought to the attention of the general public, many of whom at some point in time will be searching out drug and alcohol treatment for themselves or a loved one.
First, the news broke that Jerrod Menz, co-founder, President and second-largest shareholder of American Addiction Centers (AAC, trading as AAC Holdings), had been indicted for murder in California (https://www.forbes.com/sites/nathanvardi/2015/07/31/the-company-and-corporate-president-indicted-for-murder/). Quickly thereafter, an article on the web site SeekingAlpha.com, highlighted ongoing practices taking place throughout the numerous rehabs owned by AAC, including at least 8 undisclosed patient deaths in California and Florida (https://seekingalpha.com/article/3393735-american-addiction-centers-even-more-undisclosed-deaths-and-the-start-of-real-problems). Also, during the same time period, the Palm Beach Post carried several stories of detailing, if true, horrific practices taking place in the South Florida treatment industry, including insurance fraud, patient brokering and an on-going FBI investigation that many within the addiction treatment field expect to yield hundreds of indictments of treatment center operators and providers (https://www.mypalmbeachpost.com/news/news/addiction-treatment-bonanza-how-urine-tests-rake-i/nm9xr/#4d1e9e6f.3972662.735810).
There are a couple things to consider here. First, American Addiction Centers (AAC) operates seven inpatient addiction treatment centers throughout the country and went public with its initial public offering (IPO) on the New York Stock Exchange in October 2014. Since the news broke, the price of the AAC stock (which had been quite a hot stock on the exchange) has fallen over 50%. It is a dangerous game when a behavioral health company goes public. Why? Because when it does, the assumption is that board (just like any board of any public company) would be primarily concerned with the company stock and making the company valuable to stockholders. Therefore, again the assumption is that patient care is no longer a major priority or at best would take a backseat to profitability. It is absolutely true that treatment centers need to be profitable in order to operate. Even well-known, well-respected non-profits like Caron Treatment Centers and Father Martin’s Ashley need to turn a profit in order to keep the doors open, which in turn allows them to offer the millions of dollars in treatment scholarships they do each year to those patients and families in need. However, when a company is driven to be as profitable as possible, there is little question that patient care, patient safety and overall treatment will ultimately suffer.
Second, these disturbing practices are seemingly taking place from the largest public addiction treatment companies to some of the smallest, independent halfway houses and recovery residences in Palm Beach County. This means that questionable, unethical or potentially illegal practices have seemingly become the norm in the substance abuse treatment field. Finally, many people impacted by addiction and those who need to seek out treatment for themselves or their loved one in the future do not have the faintest clue that such practices are taking place. Also, they are unaware that it could be very costly for them in more ways than one.
When an addict or alcoholic finally admits a problem and comes to those closest to them for help, the individual and family typically react in crisis mode. They are scared, confused and often have no idea where to turn. They want to get the loved one help and as soon as possible. Because of this crisis situation, the addiction treatment industry has always been a place that organically creates and supports shady practices by individuals with questionable ethics. Families in crisis can be an easy target for those looking to prey on fearful families that do not have the necessary information or adequate time to research the best place to send their loved one in need of drug treatment. Many treatment centers promise the world to get a patient through the door. Many web sites are simply generic sites that act as referrals for marketing companies or individuals that have illegal contracts with certain rehabs to get a kickback for putting “heads in beds”
As well, there is an industry of individuals who promote themselves as “interventionists”, yet there is no nationwide certification standard or governing body that oversees interventionists. Often these people are simply individuals with a couple months or years in recovery that have found a way to monetize “helping others”, charging thousands of dollars for a service they have no actual clinical or real world field experience in providing. A quick Google search turns up hundreds of potential treatment centers or treatment placement services, all promising to help those in need. But how do you know which ones are ethical? How do you know which ones actually provide the services that they promise? How do you know and trust who we are contacting?
Parents, families and loved ones need to know some basic information about addiction treatment services. It is important to remember a couple things when searching for addiction treatment for your loved one and here are some tips to remember and utilize in order to avoid questionable, unethical or illegal addiction treatment providers:
- Is there actual contact information on the web site? Look for more than a toll free number or an online form to fill out. Is there an actual address? Are there real photos or just stock photos of people in group or a guy on a mountaintop with widespread arms looking toward the sky? If all you find is basic, generic information, than you’ve probably discovered a generic marketing site that is filling beds for a treatment center. They have no idea how to clinically access what your loved one needs and couldn’t make a proper referral if their life depended on it. Move on.
- Is the person or treatment center you’re speaking with asking any clinical questions? Are they asking in-depth questions regarding not just the drug abuse, but also questions regarding mental health issues, family dynamics and relationships, employment, education, stressors, past trauma, etc.? Or are they just asking basic questions such as “what are you using?”, “how much are you using?” and “What insurance do you have?” because it’s important to remember that not every treatment center is clinically appropriate for every patient. If they are not asking in-depth questions, move on.
- Is the person you’re speaking with an employee of a treatment center or are you speaking to someone remotely, off site, perhaps in an addiction helper call center? Follow that up with questions regarding what type of family support services or alumni information is available. Ask if any former patients or families might be able or willing to share with you about their experiences of that specific treatment center. Quality treatment centers will either have an active alumni and family population or will at least do their best to connect you with those willing to share their experience going through treatment.
- If you call a “treatment center placement specialist” or “interventionist”, does the person you’re speaking with have several options to recommend? Or are they only pushing one specific treatment option? If not, walk away. A truly professional and ethical specialist or interventionist may have one treatment option they prefer and if so, they will have good clinical reason for suggesting that place. However, they will have other options if the place they suggest is not affordable or the addict refuses to go for whatever reason.
- If you call a specific rehab and find out they are not a good fit (perhaps they are too expensive or do not accept your specific insurance or are just too far away, etc.), do they still spend adequate time with you finding alternative options. Any treatment center that operates ethically will have additional options for patients and families if they are not the best fit and will take the necessary time to gather information from you in order to make that proper referral.
- Remember to ask questions. Ask about their family programs and family involvement in treatment. Any treatment program of quality will be engaging in some way with the family and close loved ones of the addict in treatment. Ask about the staff. Remember that just because someone is in recovery doesn’t make them qualified to be providing clinical care and treatment. Find out the education and experience of the staff. Ask about their clinical and medical philosophy. Are they abstinence-based? Are they a medical model? Are they 12 Step-based? What occurs during treatment? Ask about a typical client day. Find out about the treatment part the treatment and not the amenities that many facilities use to bring clients in the door. Sure, the pool and flat screen TV are nice, but the pool and flat screen TV are not going to get your loved one sober. If the center can’t answer these questions satisfactorily, move on.
Admitting you have a problem and are willing to get help, or finding out that your loved one is suffering from an addiction and is coming to you for help, is no easy situation to deal with. It is okay to feel scared, alone and confused. However, it’s important to remember that addiction and the treatment for addiction is just like any other disease. If you or your loved one were diagnosed with cancer or heart disease, you would take the necessary time and due diligence to find the best possible treatment you could afford. Certainly, you would not Google “cancer treatment”, call the first listing closest to your home and immediately enroll in treatment. Certainly, you wouldn’t trust a generic toll free number that promised to place your loved one in the best cancer treatment center. You would research for yourself.
Substance abuse treatment is no different. Check all the facts. Make sure you feel comfortable with who you’re talking with and then verify their treatment facility. Of course, the counselor will tell they are great and will have amazing testimonials on their web site. That is why it’s up to you to do the research. Talk to admissions but ask to talk to a therapist or a clinical director. Try to locate friends who have dealt with this before (trust me, you have them…you just have to ask and they’ll appear) and ask them about their experiences. Do they have any facilities they can recommend? If you have a friend or someone you know that works in the mental health field, ask them. Addiction is a chronic, progressive disease that will be fatal if left untreated. Therefore, you will want to find the highest quality, most ethical treatment provider you can. Not every addiction treatment center or provider fits that description, so it is up to you to research and ask questions.
If you or someone you know is in need of an intervention or drug and/or alcohol treatment, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive addiction treatment in the Baltimore City, Baltimore County and entire Maryland and Washington, D.C. 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 and alcohol addiction services and recovery resources, please visit our web site at www.marylandaddictionrecovery.com.