There have been numerous media stories over the last several years detailing the unscrupulous, unethical and often illegal practices taking place regarding the marketing of addiction treatment centers online. Congress has even held hearings recently to investigate the practices. Thousands of families have had an experience of being in crisis, rushing to the internet to search for help, finding themselves on a generic online landing page and ultimately having their loved one end up in a facility located somewhere else in the country that they know little or nothing about. When asked, often the response is “Well, I found them online.” Sometimes family members search for a specific treatment center and end up on a website that lists that specific treatment center, but that reroutes calls someplace else, possibly to a treatment center that owns that generic website set up to look like an objective treatment center help guide or that is a call center selling incoming calls to treatment centers.


Regardless of how this occurs, often individuals and families seeking help do not find the help that they are looking for, whether that’s through a bait and switch, the practice of patient brokering or through having their call sold to a treatment center that may not meet the clinical needs of the person suffering from addiction. The internet and Google specifically are incredible tools that allow us as a society to find information, products, services or resources within seconds at the click of a button. That being said, an internet search may be the very worst way to seek life-saving treatment for someone suffering from addiction. Additionally, addiction treatment centers that engage in shady online marketing practices have been able to thrive due to preying on families in crisis. These facilities know that it is human nature to seek comfort and relief in a crisis. They know that parents and loved ones are looking to minimize their own fear and anxiety. They know mom and dad will do anything to get their child help and that such a situation can be capitalized on. They know that they can coerce or manipulate a loved one searching for treatment in any number of ways, and that the person they are talking with will have little ability to vet their services and quality of treatment. The parents or loved ones just want to get their loved one help and they want to get them help immediately.


Again, and we can’t stress this enough, but choosing addiction treatment based on a Google search and a review of a website is, at best, a very bad way to choose a treatment center and, at worst, can result in the worst possible outcome any parent or loved one could imagine. It also is important to remember, if a treatment center or organization is engaging in such deceptive, poor, unethical, or illegal marketing tactics regarding business practices and marketing, how much hope can we have that their clinical, treatment and recovery support services are high quality. Typically, the practices of an organization filter into every aspect of that organization and if marketing practices are poor it sends the message that the clinical practices most likely be will similarly aligned in philosophy. Not to say that those clinicians and front-line staff are not doing the best they can or do not care (we believe every clinician is working for the well-being of a patient first), but an organization runs on philosophy and culture and if leadership and ownership are allowing subpar marketing and business practices, there is little doubt that clinical care is not at the forefront of the organization’s mission and will often get sacrificed or pushed down the list of importance.


So, what can an individual or a loved one do to make sure that they are choosing a high-quality treatment center that meets their clinical needs and will support the identified patient and the family in engaging in a journey of health, healing, and recovery? What can they do to make sure the place they are searching for and calling is reputable, ethical and adheres to standards and practices of the highest quality?


First, make sure the person that you are talking to on the phone physically works at the treatment center you are looking for, asking about or at the very least work for the actual treatment organization. Independently operated call centers often are not employing clinically-trained personnel that can make appropriate clinical recommendations. Also, call centers that are not attached to a treatment center or a treatment organization cannot accurately or appropriately speak to the treatment services of a treatment center nor can they say if a treatment center is clinically appropriate for the needs of a potential patient. They cannot possibly know what the treatment is like, what services are offered, what the clinical philosophy of a facility is or how a specific center can meet the clinical needs of a person suffering from addiction, mental health or substance use disorder. Finally, call centers typically make their revenue by selling calls (“leads”) to treatment centers that are buying those calls. So how can a call center be trusted to adequately or appropriately place your loved one if they are being incentivized? How can they be objective? It’s not possible.


Second, make sure the person you are talking to is not simply agreeing with you and telling you what you want to hear, offering enticements like free flights or free rent, or is not trying to push you to a specific center. This typically means there is a financial incentive for them to get you or your loved one to a specific treatment center. Ask them questions. Who do they work for? Do they work for a specific facility or if not, how do they make money to operate? How are they incentivized? An ethical organization will be absolutely transparent with that information. Also, if you are searching for a specific facility and you call the listing for that facility on a generic treatment website, make sure you get through to that facility and the person that you are speaking with works in admissions for that facility. If you search for a facility, call a listing on a website and reach a call center, hang up the phone.


Every treatment center has a website. Google the name of a treatment center and make sure when you are searching for a treatment center you go directly to their website and call the number listed on their organization’s website. Do not call a treatment center through a third-party website, call aggregator or even from their Google listing, as many treatment center Google listings are regularly hijacked by unethical organizations and rerouted to call centers or different facilities in an effort to “steal” calls.


Third, ensure transparency from the facility. Any facility that operates ethically and with standards will absolutely be open to inviting you and your loved one in to meet and tour prior to admitting for treatment. It is often difficult for people to think this way and although it is not an apples-to-apples comparison, think of addiction as you would any other healthcare issue. Let’s say you live in Ohio and your loved one is diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and they have been referred to a specialist at Johns Hopkins in Maryland. What would you do? You would absolutely take the time and effort to vet that specialist. You would speak to them directly on the phone and you would take the necessary time to go with your loved one to visit with them in person, see the hospital, make every effort to understand the treatment plan and protocol. You would do whatever you had to do to make sure this specialist at Johns Hopkins was the absolute right fit to treat your loved one in order to save their life. Why is addiction any different? With the number of people we are losing to overdose deaths and the rising mortality rates of substance use disorder, treatment for addiction should be no different. Unfortunately, the stigma still exists, and people seem to make every excuse why not to vet addiction treatment programs. If you would take the time and effort to meet, visit and understand a healthcare organization and its treatment if your loved one had cancer, heart disease, diabetes or any other medical condition, this must become the same with addiction. If your loved one had a medical condition, you would not send them across the country to a place you haven’t spoken to directly, visited and knew intimately. Yet that seems to be the standard for addiction treatment. One phone call and a quick glance at a website and we are sending nineteen-year old’s 1200 miles away for 30 days or longer. This must stop. Make sure that you vet the facility and if possible, go visit them and get an understanding of the treatment and a comfort level with the people that will be directly treating your loved one. National accreditations are nice and buzzwords on a website can sound fancy, but make sure you go and see, touch, smell and feel the place that you are trusting with your loved one’s life.


Finally, once you’ve reached an actual facility, have spoken with them, visited them and learned about the treatment, make sure they are being direct and transparent with you from the beginning and they are not simply trying to get your loved one to admit through their door. This is a very “heads-in-beds” approach and does a disservice to the identified patient and the family. Make sure they are accurately explaining what will be best for your loved one. If we understand that addiction is a complex chronic brain disease with a major biopsychosocial component that often accompanies a co-occurring disorder, a facility (no matter what level of care they provide) should be explaining that the treatment and ongoing recovery will require a comprehensive long-term approach. At a minimum, a patient and family should be preparing emotionally, financially and logistically for what the next year of the patient’s life should look like. Of course, that can change, move in several different potential directions and look somewhat different for each patient, as every patient is different with different clinical, social, and financial needs and means, come from different life stages and have different life responsibilities. However, regardless of those individual details, a chronic illness requires long-term care, maintenance and support and any treatment facility you speak with should be preparing you and support you for that upcoming journey to make sure your loved one is set up for their best chance of success in recovery and achieving a high quality of life moving forward.


Trust has been something that has been lost in the addiction treatment field. Too many individuals and families have been taken advantage of and while it should fall on the addiction treatment industry to win back that trust, we also beg those searching for help to become educated consumers and do their own research. Understand that yes, this may be a crisis but in order to make the most informed, educated decision for yourself or your loved one, slow down and take a breath. Taking the time in finding and choosing the best help that will meet your loved one’s clinical needs is paramount to getting them help now. Vet the programs yourself and reach out to others that have gone through similar situations as well as professionals in your area and within your community. Parents, spouses and families have often been dealing with their loved one’s addiction for years and take on immeasurable amounts of fear, anxiety, depression and stress, so it is unsurprising that they want to get their loved one help as soon as possible. However, it is more important to make sure that you get them the right help rather than the right now help, in order for them to be safe not just immediately but also get the necessary help and support they need to engage in a sustainable, lifelong recovery.


If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or dual diagnosis 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 Contact us today. For more information on all of our drug addiction, alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorder services and recovery resources, please visit our website at

man searching online

Table of Contents