This Woman Went to Rehab and Says It Was the Worst Decision of Her Life — Here’s Why

As the opioid crisis in America starts to take its grip, more people are wondering where to turn. Rehab facilities are becoming a $35 billion dollar industry and a lot of them are making some pretty amazing claims of success. The problem is that this industry is entirely unregulated and most of those claims are flat out lies.

One woman learned the hard way of how shady this industry can be when she sought help, and her story is nothing short of terrifying. However, it does shine a light on how this industry can be a cesspool of fraud and death.

‘I ended up going from flophouse to flophouse’

Casey O'Brien smiling in a photo.

Rehab centers were not helping O’Brien. | Deborah Becker/WBUR

In an interview with WBUR 90.9, Casey O’Brien described her harrowing experience trying to get clean in Florida. O’Brien was promised “luxurious life” by rehab facilities but ended up being shuffled around from house to house. Meanwhile, her insurance was bilked for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

What she refers to as a “flophouse” is known as a sober house. These homes promise an environment surrounded by other people trying to get sober too. They are supposed to provide support services to help patients get sober. They only really provide cigarettes. O’Brien ended up spending two years staying in these sober houses where everyone used drugs, according to her.

Next: The reason this can happen is shocking.

The entire industry is almost completely unregulated

Bottles of drugs on a table.

Drug rehabilitation centers are free to do their own thing. | DedMityay/iStock/Getty Images

The medical community has come to view drug addiction as a disease that needs to be treated rather than a moral shortcoming. Even though the medical community recognizes its seriousness, the federal government hasn’t.

According to FiveThirtyEight, “There are no federal standards for counseling practices or rehab programs.” That essentially means that anyone can open an outpatient rehab facility and the results have been nothing short of tragic.

Next: This Palm Beach treatment center operator did some seriously messed up things to his patients.

Chatman turned his patients into prostitutes and organized rapes

Kenny Chatman walking past reporters.

Chatman was sentenced to 27 years in jail. | PbPost via Twitter

Kenneth Chatman was sentenced to 27 years behind bars for turning his patients into prostitutes. He also engaged in human-trafficking and allowed outside clients to rape his patients for a price. He also allowed people in his “sober homes” to use drugs. One of his patients, Ryan Pekar, died in one of his homes in 2014.

Next: Why people are doing this is the oldest story in the book.

There is a lot of money being made

Checking into a rehab center costs a pretty penny. | Katarzyna Bialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images

There are over 14,500 rehab facilities in the U.S and the industry has ballooned to nearly $35 billion annually. Opportunists see each addict as a dollar sign because of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 and the ACA.

Both of these bills force insurance companies to cover addiction recovery programs and relapses. The ACA also allows for children to stay on their parent’s insurance until they are 26 years old.

Next: The scams these rehabs are using are pretty insane.

Drug tests are worth thousands

Doctor holding a bottle of urine sample.

Drug testing costs employers and insurance companies a fortune. | Csaba Deli/iStock/Getty Images

Urine testing facilities can charge thousands of dollars to insurance companies for something that costs them $30 dollars to do. A lot of the outpatient treatment facilities will use that leverage to get kickbacks from testing facilities.

Each test could garner as much as $1,500 and that money adds up quickly. So much so that in Palm Beach, the addiction treatment industry has been raking in millions off of pee. In South Florida, the industry calls urine “liquid gold.”

Next: Outpatient rehabs centers go to great lengths to get new clients, and they even have an offensive name for it.

‘Junkie hunting’

Doctor is making notes while listening to his patient.

Rehab centers are always looking for patients willing to join. | Vadimguzhva/iStock/Getty Images

Otherwise known as “in-patient brokering,” junkie hunting is when sober homes have their own patients go out and find new clients. They would entice people by offering them a place to live rent-free and would still be allowed to use drugs, so long as they still had good insurance. Each one they brought into a facility could garner them upwards of $500. Most of the patients end up being in their early 20s because they are still attached to their parents’ insurance.

Slightly less shady methods include referral agencies who randomly assign a person to a facility for $40 to $50. The Addiction Network does just that and pays little mind to the facilities they are sending their clients to.

Next: Even if you wanted to research a facility, relevant information is almost always biased.

It’s impossible to find unbiased information on rehab facilities

Students gathered at a rehab center.

The data on success rates isn’t clear. | Bowdenimages/iStock/ Getty Images Plus

If you are trying to find out about facilities and their services from an unbiased source, you’re going to have a very difficult time. Rehabs can often boast an 80% success rate. When they’re asked to provide the data to support that, they most likely don’t have anything.

If you go to a review website like Rehab Reviews or The Fix, you’re going to see great reviews for Cliffside Malibu. That’s because all three of those are owned by Richard Taite.

Next: All of this ends badly for a lot of people. 

The Florida shuffle

Opioids written in chalk on blackboard with crushed powder, spoon, syring and prescription vial.

Rehab centers don’t always care for patients. | Karenfoleyphotography/Getty Images

Palm Beach State Attorney, Dave Aronberg describes the “Florida shuffle” for ESPN in a horrifying way: “You go in and out of recovery, in and out of rehab centers, in and out of sober homes, milking the individual for their insurance until that person dies.”

Relapse rates are very high because of the lack of oversight. These facilities don’t have any obligation that their systems work. That entire concept is what kept Casey O’Brien moving from flophouse to flophouse. Aronberg says that “our current system isn’t really a recovery model, it’s a relapse model, where the big money is in relapse. It’s in failure rather than success and sobriety.”

Next: If you’re wondering what to do, there’s only this advice from experts if you’re looking for treatment.

Some experts recommend you don’t go to rehab

A patient speaking to a therapist.

There might be better options for those seeking recovery. | KatarzynaBialasiewicz/Getty Images

Experts in the field are recommending that you don’t even try to go to a rehab facility according to Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Instead, they recommend that you consult a doctor that is board certified in treating addiction.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many doctors with that certification because it is relatively new. If you want to find them, head to the American Board of Preventive Medicine. They may be able to help you guide you through a treatment that best suits you.

Until this system gets the oversight that it so desperately needs, frauds and opportunists are going to continue to rip off the system set up to help.

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