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Linda Rosenberg

Former President and CEO, National Council for Behavioral Health

Finding Reputable Addiction Treatment May Be the Difference Between Life and Death

February 15, 2018 | Addiction | Substance Use | Comments
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The stories are heartbreaking.

Drug treatment in this country has become a $35 billion industry, opening the floodgates for a host of unscrupulous operators who prey on vulnerable individuals and families.

With glossy brochures and prepaid plane tickets, so called “body brokers” lure people desperate for help with the promise of spa-like surroundings where they can detox and recover in warm, sunny places like Florida and Arizona. They bill the patients’ or often their parents’ insurance for hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable treatment and expensive and unnecessary drug tests. When insurance runs out, patients are often literally kicked to the curb. Worse, they may be encouraged to relapse so they can begin another cycle of treatment.

That’s what happened to Alison Flory, big sister, bookworm and her mothers’ best friend. Alison’s life in a Chicago suburb began spiraling out of control when her boyfriend completed suicide. She had just broken up with him and felt responsible for his death, her mother, Jennifer, says. A friend gave her some pills to ease the pain.

Alison entered a legitimate rehab facility in Florida, but was recruited to attend day treatment at several different facilities, all the while living in a series of unregulated sober homes where drug use was an open secret. It was in one such home that Alison died in October 2017 from cocaine and carfentanil toxicity. She was 24 years old. Her mother’s insurance company was billed $1.3 million.

How to Choose a Good Provider

Alison’s mother told her story to Dr. Oz last November, a show on which National Council Board of Directors Public Policy Chair Sara Howe also appeared. Howe, CEO of the Illinois Association for Behavioral Health, filmed a set of tips for finding a reputable addiction treatment provider, advice echoed in a recent factsheet on Finding Quality Treatment for Substance Use Disorders, published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

As Howe noted, treatment is just the first step in recovery from a substance use disorder. Individuals need to learn to live in community, and they shouldn’t have to fly across the country to find help. A reputable treatment program should:

  • Be accredited: Both the program and the staff should have received training in treatment of substance use disorders and mental illnesses and be licensed or registered in the state.
  • Provide medication-assisted treatment (MAT). MAT is the gold standard in treatment for opioid disorders, and medication is also available to help those with alcohol use disorders. As SAMHSA points out, there are currently no FDA-approved medications to help prevent relapse from other problem substances.
  • Use evidence-based practices. These include motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioral therapy and peer support. Effective addiction treatment should also arrange or provide for treatment of co-occurring mental illnesses and physical health problems.
  • Involve families. Family members can play a crucial role in supporting their loved one’s recovery.
  • Offer ongoing treatment and supports. Quality programs provide treatment for the long term, SAMHSA notes. This may include ongoing counseling or recovery coaching and support, as well as help in meeting basic needs such as housing and employment.

Ideally, Howe says, you should be able to speak directly to the provider or agency, not a middleman. Ask about the services they offer and what their outcomes are. Be certain they are prepared to assess the patient for the appropriate level of care and help them develop a recovery plan. If you can’t get an appointment within 48 hours, find another provider, SAMHSA says.

SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator is available online or by calling 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Ultimately, Howe says, “There are reputable treatment providers all over the country. You don’t have to leave your home and your state to find good treatment.”