We all congratulate those individuals that have found their way into living a life in recovery after once being shackled by the pain, loneliness and hopelessness of addiction. We support them. We advocate for them. We champion them. We offer assistance when and wherever necessary. However, we also need to recognize that a person in recovery is not necessarily qualified to work in addiction treatment or help get others into treatment.

Unfortunately, one of the issues taking place within the industry (and one of the issues that perpetuates poor quality treatment and unethical business practices within the field) is the issue of people in recovery working in marketing and outreach positions using their personal recovery as the qualification for their work within the field. This is not an overall classification or judgment regarding people in recovery that work in the field of addiction. Many people in recovery work in treatment and operate above-board in terms of experience, education and insight. Many people in recovery have gone back to school to become clinicians. Many quality and ethical treatment providers hire those in recovery to work as marketing or outreach representatives and support them with the necessary tools, training and skillset needed to represent a life-saving clinical service and make other clinical recommendations for those in need.

The issue that is taking place is the oversaturation of treatment facilities in the behavioral healthcare space has created numerous addiction treatment centers that have opened and operate without the necessary experience or skillset to operate a healthcare organization. In most states it is fairly easy to open a treatment center. Individuals and groups without vital training or mentorship are opening programs in every state nationwide and licensing or accreditation is not a barometer of ethical practices. Organizations that practice substandard clinical and business practices (and there are many) often hire people new to recovery as marketing and outreach representatives. In turn, these organizations offer little in the way of training, support or guidance for these individuals, sending them out into the professional, clinical and local community to cultivate referrals based on nothing more than their own personal recovery experience. They are not armed with adequate skills in clinical assessment, professional relationships or anything else that would qualify them for their positions. Simply, they are people in recovery (often in very early recovery) and their sole purpose is to get people through the door of the treatment center they work for, using what they have: their enthusiasm for recovery, experience in addiction and a friendly disposition. While these are all great attributes, and often are beneficial in duping uninformed professionals and family members of those suffering from addiction into like them personally and thus referring to them, they are often completely unqualified to operate in a position so influential in the life-or-death decision of choosing an appropriate treatment or behavioral healthcare facility.

Calling addiction a life or death situation is not hyperbole. The mortality rates and overdose rates of those individuals suffering from a substance use disorder are skyrocketing. Yet, for a number of reasons, It’s still stigmatized and not treated by many like the life threatening disease that it is. It’s an old analogy and it certainly isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, but for a moment let’s look at addiction as we would another chronic, progressive, potentially fatal disease: cancer. If our loved one was diagnosed with cancer, what would we do? We would seek out specialists and sit down and meet with them. We would seek second opinions. We would find the absolute best care necessary. Not so with addiction treatment. Many times, we hear that a parent in crisis was given the name and a contact for a person representing a treatment facility. “He was so nice and helpful,” they say. “He was in recovery himself so he had gone through it!”  While we think that’s wonderful, would we do such a thing with cancer? Of course not. We would seek out the insight and experience and expertise of a trained professional. We may do this two or three times. We would sit with them, ask questions, visit the hospital and truly understand the recommended course of treatment. However, not so with addiction. In a crisis, parents and loved ones seem to turn to the first friendly source they meet and that sounds like they know what they are talking about. “He really understands what my son is going through,” we often here. However, just because a person is in recovery from addiction does not mean they are qualified to assist with treatment recommendations or placement and certainly doesn’t means they know or understand what they are talking about in terms of clinically-driven treatment services.

“Chad,” as we will call him, may be a nice young man. He may be friendly and happy and can certainly talk about his own addiction and recovery, the consequences he faced due to his addiction and how his addiction impacted his family. As happy as we are for Chad and his family that he has found recovery, unless Chad has received the proper training, education, mentoring and experience, he is not qualified to be helpful in finding the best clinical fit for your loved one’s life-saving treatment. We also ask that Chad’s mom, as happy as we are for her son’s recovery, does not become a specific treatment advocate herself. All too often, mom is happy to start coaching other parents in the direction of treatment services and while mom, certainly well-versed in experience of being a parent to an addicted child, is often less-equipped than Chad to offer assistance. We hope that mom shares her personal experience with the treatment facilities that Chad has gone through as a patient, but doesn’t begin to promote the treatment center that now employs Chad. Also, what was right for Chad may not be right for someone else’s child or loved one. Just because Chad suffered from addiction does not mean Chad dealt with the same specific clinical issues that someone else’s child may now be facing. We hope that mom will share her personal experience but do nothing in terms of recommending or acting as a treatment liaison for the rehab Chad is representing. The appropriate, ethical help would be to have other parents and families consult a professional and go check out treatment options themselves, rather than directing them to send their child to the treatment center Chad now works for as a marketer.

Please understand, we are not altogether blaming or judging Chad (although anyone in any position has some level of responsibility of ethical practices to adhere to) but we are more so blaming the treatment center that employs Chad. The treatment center that hires him with no experience. The treatment center that doesn’t spend the time or resources in training him, coaching him, supervising him or mentoring him. The treatment center that looks at Chad as a person in recovery and says to themselves “This guy will be perfect! Parents will love him. He’ll definitely bring in referrals!” We cannot altogether blame Chad when a rehab throws a ton of money at him and says “bring in (this many) referrals and you’ll be rewarded handsomely.” Often Chad doesn’t have a ton of higher education, training or a career. Often he doesn’t even have an undergraduates degree. He is simply a person in recovery who was offered a ton of money from a rehab and believes he is actually helping people. However, we know that in terms of addiction treatment “some treatment” is not necessarily better than “no treatment” at all. In fact, the incorrect clinical treatment or poor treatment can actually be more detrimental to an individual suffering from addiction than no treatment whatsoever. “I’m helping people!” Chad will say, not knowing if this is true or not. Sometimes he’ll argue, “I’m just trying to make a living” when confronted about the inconsistencies and unethical practices of his facility and his representation of it. That may be true Chad and no one wants to stop you from making a living. However, in this case, you making a living does not matter when what we are talking about are people’s lives at stake.

We urge that parents, family members and loved ones of those suffering from addiction take the same amount of time, education and due diligence they would if their loved one was suffering from cancer, heart disease or diabetes regarding their treatment options. Become educated consumers. Research. Then research some more. Talk to professionals. Meet the management, clinical and medical staff of the treatment center you are considering. Get feedback from professionals that have worked with that treatment center. Get a comfort level of the treatment process and treatment experience. Do not take the easier, softer way. Do not just send your loved one to a place because the marketing or outreach representative is a nice, friendly person in recovery. We are happy for Chad and his journey but we implore you to take the selection process of treatment for addiction as serious as you would any other life-threatening medical condition and don’t send your loved one to a place just because the young person you met that works for it has a nice smile and is in recovery themselves.

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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