In September, when Tennessee-based Acadia Healthcare Company paid $90 million for Timberline Knolls, a 122-bed inpatient treatment program in Chicago, treatment providers wondered if their programs were worth that kind of money, bed for bed. Other deals in recent months, including Foundations Recovery Network’s acquisition in early October by Nick Pritzker Capital Management for an undisclosed amount, point to the possibility that addiction treatment — at least in the commercial (non-Medicaid, nonpublic) sector — is a profitable enterprise.
This made me recall a mind blowing article by Bill White about the emergence and decline of 19th century addiction treatment. Profit seeking prevailing over mission was no small factor.
A weakened field found itself unable to respond to these environmental threats. Several factors contributed to the field’s professional and political impotence. The field’s public reputation had been wounded by highly publicized breaches of ethical conduct. Newspaper exposés charged incompetence and fraud in the field’s clinical and business practices. Allegations abounded of inadequate care, patient abuses, sleazy marketing practices, and the financial exploitation of patients and families. Muckraking investigations of the bottled addiction cures exposed products secretly loaded with alcohol, opium, morphine, and cocaine.
Because 19th century treatment institutions catered mostly to an affluent population, they had done little to ease the burden indigent alcoholics were placing on jails and community hospitals. Many institutions became viewed not as agencies that served their communities but as places where the rich went to dry out and escape the consequences of their drinking behavior. As a result, there were few community leaders who came to the defense of inebriate institutions during their time of most critical need.
All this money in treatment brings unanticipated problems for families seeking treatment. We see this all the time.
One of the biggest concerns — some people think one closely related to profits – is Internet marketing. “Rehab” and “addiction” are valuable Google search terms, so there is great interest in how the Internet is helping addiction treatment businesses grow.
Sometimes treatment centers advertise online as if they are an independent referral service when they are actually funded by a treatment program.
“For consumers, it’s the Wild West,” said Rhodes, who has worked with people who have gone on the Internet to try to find treatment. Call centers may try to place people in programs that are inappropriate, said Rhodes. “It’s potentially dangerous, and there’s no regulation,” he told ADAW.
For example, Narconon programs, which are run by the Church of Scientology, have a “very major web presence,” said Rhodes. “If you start looking for treatment on the Internet, sooner or later you will end up at Scientology,” he said. Many patients don’t even know that Narconon is Scientology, he said.