There are three major issues preventing drug treatment in the United States from becoming more widespread, effective, and affordable. Bad practices within the Addiction Treatment industry, a community-level aversion to treatment, and a failure to comply from insurance companies are all dampening the efforts of serious clinical experts.
There’s a plethora of wonderful recovery centers dedicated to using well-researched, clinically proven methods to provide optimal care for their clients. Unfortunately, there’s also a series of profiteering organizations using substandard facilities and illegal practices such as body brokering. Although these practices are not commonplace within the industry, they’re often put into place by powerful organizations with strong financial resources that manage to get away with atrocious practices for extended periods of time. The Los Angeles Times released an article highlighting many of these malpractices:
- Misdiagnosing psychiatric patients to keep them in the hospital for longer than therapeutically necessary to keep collecting insurance payments
- Overbilling or charging for services not rendered
- Kidnapping patients and committing them to mental institutions in order to exhaust their insurance benefits
- Paying “bounties” for patients referred to psychiatric hospitals.
The aforementioned article came out in 1991, yet these issues continue to plague our field today. They have left a black mark over the entire industry, damaging public perception and support for everyone, from small recovery homes to industry leaders. To make matters worse, insurance companies feed on the lack of trust in the recovery industry to avoid recent parity rulings that force them to treat addiction like other medical diagnosis, such as cancer or heart disease. Despite a clear need, many addicted patients are not able to enter long-term treatment because providers are failing to offer coverage at affordable rates, sometimes with fatal consequences.
There’s a strong NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) syndrome response from local communities to treatment centers. There’s a stigma that treatment centers would harbor criminals to a neighborhood, despite the fact those centers are meant to address problems within a community, not create more addictions. This is causing a scenario where victims of addiction, and those most at-risk for developing one, are completely isolated from local access to care. This only perpetuates addiction within a community, and causes immense stress for families that have to separate or transport family members to far away clinics just to receive the care they need.
All three of these factors feed into one another. Reduced trust means less funding. For treatment providers, less funding means less regulation and more opportunity for bottom-feeders and corrupt profiteering. More bad practices means more reasons for insurers to bail out of providing services. Less coverage means more people exposed and vulnerable to addiction. More addicted people exposed to the negative lifestyle changes related to their disorder means a rise in criminality and visible repulsion to addicts, which further enforces the negative stigmas of addiction and encourages NIMBY syndrome response. What a tangled web we weave!
I think the best solution is collaboration with other like-minded professionals and organizations by keeping your own side of the street clean, and diligently paying attention to our own behaviors to ensure they are aligned with the missions of our organizations and our own value systems. It’s healthy and practical for businesses to work together like this, especially when they share a similar cause. As one of the 25 CEO Board Members of National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers, I’ve been exposed to the amazing benefits of working with colleagues towards a unified goal, and together we’ve helped with lobbying efforts to change the future of our entire industry. We’ve seen stronger regulations passed to discourage bad practices, and to encourage a higher level of care for our clients. Together, we’re slowly building trust back among our communities.
We need the help of everyone in our community, however. The epidemic only grows each year, with estimated costs of $740 billion annually, affecting an estimated 23.5 million people in the U.S. Through a little networking and a passion to help your community treat addiction, we can overcome the negative stigmas of addiction and help those most in need. We call for your help and collaboration. Together, you can be a local community leader and petition to your city council, your congressmen, and your neighbors to call to action. Together, we can improve regulations of unsavory care facilities, create measurable criteria for successful recovery standards, and implement them in every neighborhood that needs it.