You have to love a guy dressed up in surgical scrubs with a stethoscope trying to sell you addiction treatment services. You know, those seedy inpatient rehab facilities that claim they can self-police their own horrible, terrible marketing practices.
But as this television commercial, that’s been airing for years on cable TV, clearly demonstrates, there remains very little that’s ethical about addiction treatment marketing. That’s especially true if you get suckered into calling one of those addiction treatment hotlines you see on TV or on a website.
As we noted in August 2018, the rehab industry still needs federal oversight and regulation. That’s because it’s shown a curious detachment from the typical morals and ethics that govern most industries whose job it is to help people get well.
Enter The Addiction Network.
Ostensibly some sort of referral network that treatment centers need to pay in order to be a part of, it runs laughable television commercials on cable TV, preying on people who don’t understand how the rehab industry’s aggressive treatment referral pipeline works.
The Addiction Network appears to be a service of Pro Media Group, a “direct response marketing and advertising agency” in Miami, Florida. That’s right — you’re getting your addiction treatment referral from a marketing and advertising company.
The registered corporate manager of The Addiction Network LLC in Florida is one Jonathan Peress, an executive vice president at Pro Media Group.
The only web presence I could find for “The Addiction Network” is at makeamericasoberagain.com. That site says it was created by “Soap Creative Services.” Soap Creative Services’ CEO is Anthony Provenzano, according to Florida corporate records. And the owner of the website is registered to a company called “Winston Wolfe Media Group” and, yes, the same Anthony Provenzano. Tony also just happens to be a senior vice president at Pro Media Group.
Why are there so many shell companies involved in this effort, all seemingly owned or run by the same people at Pro Media Group? We reached out to the company for comment, and our call was returned by their attorney who wanted to understand the type of article we were writing before the company would respond to our questions. When asked about the multitude of companies, the attorney replied:
The Addiction Network offers an umbrella of products by being able to utilize the specific resources of multiple different companies. Soap Creative Services owns and maintains trademarks, intellectual property and copyright material and partners with the Addiction Network to license the use of this data. Promedia and Winston Wolfe are third party advertising and consulting agencies that assist in the management of media and technology for the Addiction Network.
Which doesn’t do much to explain why the principals of these other companies are all senior management at ProMedia.
I decided to call the number that flashed on my screen during a TV commercial break one weekday evening earlier this month. The number connected me to Treatment Management Behavioral Health. I called twice just to make sure I would get connected to the same referral service. (Your number may be different in your commercials, depending upon your geographical location, and you may be connected to a different company.)
The company is part of an enormous rehab empire called Treatment Management Company that is apparently owned by Bryan Deering, according to The Verge: ((Treatment Management Behavioral Health is apparently accredited by the Joint Commission (another demonstration that credentials often mean little).))
But those aren’t the only businesses in Aid in Recovery’s network. Company filings and court records reveal a tangled web of holding companies within blandly named holding companies, adding up to a multimillion-dollar rehab business, all tied together by an LLC called Treatment Management Company. It spans four states, and includes phone rooms, urinalysis labs, detoxes, and rehabs. All of them are connected to one man, Bryan Deering, a millionaire who made his money in concrete.
The concerning thing wasn’t that I was connected to something that clearly wasn’t “The Addiction Network.” No, far more worrisome was that after I had hung up on them (twice), they called me back immediately. They also left a voicemail:
Hi, this is Chris with Treatment Management Behavioral Health. We actually had a missed call from this number, someone called us twice and nobody said anything. If you or a loved one are struggling with drugs or alcohol, please feel free to give us a call at this toll-free number, it’s open 24/7. It is 866-XXX-XXXX. Thank you very much and I hope you have a good night.
Polite, right? But oh so wrong.
As any first year graduate student in psychology can tell you, privacy and confidentiality are significant concerns of anyone seeking treatment services for a behavioral health or substance abuse issue. Many people don’t want their family — or even partner — knowing that they are getting or seeking treatment. That is their right and is considered protected health information under the law.
A professional should never call back an individual and leave any identifying information about the service they’re calling from, because the person might be in an abusive situation. You just don’t know. The person may have called from a shared home telephone number. Leaving identifying information could open the victim up to further, additional abuse.
This is, in my opinion, a grievous violation of a person’s privacy in contacting one of these numbers. Yet the person who I called back seemed entirely unaware or unconcerned about the issue. He just wanted his referral. Nowhere in the advertisement did it say that if you call that number and change your mind and hang up, they will automatically call you right back. (And trust me, I had to pause the TV commercial and get out a magnifying glass to read the tiny legal print that appears at the end of The Addiction Network’s ad.)
Now, had I been an abusive husband who is dealing with alcohol addiction, and my wife had just tried calling this referral line, I’d have reason to believe my wife betrayed me. And sadly what follows in this hypothetical situation isn’t all that difficult to imagine.
I received a second call-back from the same addiction treatment referral company, this time from a woman. After I began suggesting to this person that calling a person back twice to check on their referral, they handed the phone over to Chris, the same guy who left the voicemail. He got into a discussion with me about whether it’s a violation of a person’s confidentiality or privacy by calling someone back about “addiction services” to an anonymous number that contacted them and left absolutely no message.
To me, this is very simple. Therapists and addiction treatment referral people should not make any assumptions about the people who contact them. And there is no relationship established just because I call your number and hang up. Assuming it is perfectly okay to contact someone who hung up on you without saying a word — and leave a voicemail message — is wrong. Doing it twice is doubly wrong.
When I spoke with him, Chris did justify his company’s behavior as the industry standard. “Hey, if you call any of the other referral services, they’ll do the same thing.”
That’s exactly the point. This isn’t a problem with just one company. While it’s easy to single out the service that put their telephone number on the TV commercial that I viewed, this is symptomatic of an endemic problem throughout the treatment addiction industry.
When I asked the company’s attorney about who a consumer could turn to in order to complain about the way they were treated by someone at The Addiction Network, she replied: “Consumers can always reach out to management at the Addiction Network to voice concerns about any third party, however, the Addiction Network does not own, operate, manage or is otherwise involved with the services offered by treatment facilities.”
I’m not sure how a consumer is supposed to find “management” of this company, given that they have no website or contact information? The lawyer did note they only work with Joint Commission-accredited facility — demonstrating quite clearly how little such accreditation means in the real world. The Joint Commission does a horrible job of policing the addiction treatment industry.
Everyone deserves better from the rehab and addiction treatment industry. Especially the people most at risk, watching these kinds of low-budget ridiculous TV commercials featuring a fake surgeon encouraging someone to get addiction treatment.
I know the industry means well — but it can do better. I encourage them to re-evaluate these kinds of practices. I encourage them to take into account that they are dealing with the lives of real people. In their relentless effort to get their next $200+ referral fee, they may unintentionally be putting someone at risk.