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Facebook Is Cracking Down On Ads for Shady Rehab Centres

America's drug addiction problem has been at epidemic levels for a while now and is at the forefront of many conversations around mental health, most recently with the hospitalization of Demi Lovato following an apparent overdose.

The numbers speak for themselves. According to the 2016 National Survey On Drug Use and Health, 65.3 million Americans had engaged in binge drinking, 28.6 million had used illicit drugs, and 11.8 million had misused opioids in the previous year. And, according to new preliminary data from the CDC, more than 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017—a 6.6 percent increase from 2016. (Side note: These are the drug abuse warning signs everyone should know.)

In the United States, there are more than 14,500 specialized drug treatment facilities to help get addicts back on their feet, according to the National Institute On Drug Abuse. But not all of these rehab centers are created equal. As more and more people struggle with addiction, some of these facilities have taken part in insurance scams designed to essentially prevent addicts from recovering.

Don't go completely jaded just yet. "Most treatment centers are good, upstanding businesses," says Jim Peake, founder of Addiction-Rep, a marketing company for rehab centers.

But here's where things get sketchy: Private insurance companies will typically reimburse rehab patients for a 28-day residential stay, explains Peake. Just like with doctors and dentists, there are in-network centers (that have negotiated an agreement with the insurance company for a lower rate) and out-of-network centers, which charge a higher rate and often require the patient to pay a higher deductible. A rehab facility's cost to acquire new patients can be extremely high, so some centers do whatever it takes to get people in the door—paying for transportation for out-of-state individuals, absorbing the cost of the deductible, and turning to third-party agencies (like Peake's) to drive business to their center.

While addiction is treatable, the cold hard truth is that 40 to 60 percent of people treated for substance use disorders relapse. The centers stand to make a major profit from return patients, says Peake, so they have less incentive to help them make a full recovery. (Related: What Exactly Is Narcan and How Does It Work?)

For addicts and their families, that spells danger. Peake says women, in particular, should listen up because, in his experience, mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives make up nearly 75 percent of people searching for rehab facilities for their loved ones. (FYI, women are also at higher risk for addiction to prescription painkillers.) You might find a rehab center's website that appears legit but, when you call, you're transferred to a telemarketing company not interested in helping. Instead, they're making a sale to the highest-bidding treatment center—which may or may not be using proven treatment methods. Shocking, but true. (Related: Everything You Should Know Before Taking Prescription Painkillers)

To help combat this disturbing problem, Facebook announced last week that it's cracking down on ads for addiction treatment centers employing these shady marketing strategies.

Through a partnership with LegitScript, a company that helps make the internet safer, Facebook will require treatment centers to register in their respective states and comply with all legal and regulatory requirements, provide resumes of all treatment professionals, and undergo background checks, among other rules. Then they must apply to advertise on Facebook, which will review their certifications. This follows similar efforts from Google in September 2017 to stop selling ads around searches for "drug rehab" and "alcohol treatment centers," which were reportedly going for up to $70 per ad click.

The new Facebook process costs money, of course, which will likely squeeze the wallets of mom-and-pop shops who are running proper facilities but don't have the funds to go through with the social media site's requirements. Overall for consumers, though, it can only be a step in the right direction. In a statement, Facebook said the company is committed to being "a place where people can find resources they need"—and will continue to do their part to limit bad actors.

In the meantime, if you're searching for rehab centers online, Peake offered these tips for making sure the ones you're looking at are legit:

  • On a center's website, click on the "about" section and see who works there. Make sure they have credentialed (MDs and PhDs) staff members listed.

  • Call the state in which they're located to make sure they're licensed. Also, all centers should have their license posted in their front office.

  • It goes without saying, but search for reviews about the center.

  • Call the center and ask what type of training they have in the treatment field. Also, ask how much one-on-one time they provide to patients; three hours a week or more is a good amount. "Group-only" therapy is a red flag.

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