When you ask a room of recovering individuals – “how do you know when a treatment center or sober house is safe?” – nothing can prepare you for the gut wrenching moment when the overwhelming response is “you can’t really know for sure”. The fact that the very same individuals who face this terrifying reality are still trying to seek treatment is a testament to their character and fortitude.
Anyone who watches the news, reads the paper, or has any familiarity with the realm of addiction treatment, knows that the sober living industry has always been blighted by corruption and scandal. The survivors of wrongdoing have no shortage of horror stories centered around body snatching, sex trafficking, wrongful death, and insurance fraud. Tragically, the trauma inflicted by this depraved criminal activity begets more addiction and mars the efforts of agencies who are operating according to ethical standards.
The good news is that the tide seems to be turning in a more hopeful direction. In March, recovery advocate Ryan Hampton testified at an opioid hearing in front of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Hampton’s testimony lends support to the “Ensuring Access To Quality Sober Living Act.” Hampton writes: “If passed, for the first time ever, there will finally be a national standard of care for safe, stable, ethical, qualified recovery housing”.
While sober living organizations, not unlike the people who run them, will always be subject to garden-variety flaws and human error, the field as a whole is desperate for a standard of care – and, most especially, proper monitoring and accountability for those who fail to operate in a principled and conscientious manner.
If the addiction treatment industry is so untrustworthy and unregulated, why not shut down sober living and over-abused treatment modalities all together? The answer is simple: When executed ethically, these modalities save lives. Johann Hari said “the opposite of addiction is connection”. Reputable sober living communities allow recovering individuals to cultivate positive social connection. For some, the connections formed in these safe environments may comprise the first healthy and trusting relationships of their lives.
Until such time as regulatory legislation is passed, enacted, and enforced, the domain of addiction treatment and sober living may continue to look a lot like the Wild West. So how do people seeking a safe recovery community navigate the dangerous landscape? While our community members were blunt regarding the lack of safeguards, they also had some helpful suggestions:
- Utilize Word of Mouth: A documentary circulating social media outlines the horrifying moment when a young woman is approached at a recovery meeting and lured into a sex trafficker’s flop house. In order to avoid scenarios like these, it’s critical to exercise due diligence. Don’t take a stranger’s or a staff member’s word for it – ask around. Search out known and trustworthy people who have been to the facility before and ask about their experiences. If you can’t find several people who can corroborate a facility’s reputation, don’t go. Even when understandably desperate, it’s important not to make split second decisions based on heightened emotion. Rash decision making can lead to victimization and death. Avoid anyone who offers you money or tries to sell you on luxury amenities. You are not livestock at auction and your life is worth more than a cheap sales pitch.
- Look for Transparency: One of our community members stated that it helped him to see photos of staff members and to read individualized staff recovery stories prior to entering treatment. Another individual stated that it was immensely helpful to meet staff and to hear administrators speak passionately in the community. While it’s possible that illegitimate organizations will offer tours or state of the art websites, you decrease your chances of being lured into something treacherous when you don’t go in blind. Visit a facility first and thoroughly investigate staff. Check for endorsements from leading healthcare accreditors. Be wary of evasive behaviors and trust your gut. If it feels suspicious or too good to be true, it probably is. Ask questions about billing and treatment practices. If the investigative task feels overwhelming – and it certainly can be – visit a community center and ask for help doing research. Local social workers, case managers, and law enforcement will likely have knowledge about safe organizations. At the end of the day, a sound treatment community will be known to others and won’t operate in the shadows. Those who are operating on moral ground have nothing to hide.
- Be Aware of Staff Boundaries: Have you ever asked for treatment information and/or correspondence and been inundated with excessive sale calls – even after you asked them to stop? Have you ever felt pressured by treatment representatives to choose their facility rather than encouraged to go at your own pace and find a fit that’s right for you? These tactics can be a red flag of something more sinister at play. It’s one thing to be enthusiastic about assisting you, and another thing entirely to harass you. Be extremely cautious of anyone who approaches you with an unsolicited proposition, especially in public places like meetings and coffee shops. These behaviors are the calling card of “body snatchers”, whose job it is to corral bodies into a shuffle of fraudulent billing and trafficking.
There’s no way to reverse the damage that has been done at the hands of criminals, but the Process Recovery Center is determined to confront the issue directly and to provide life saving education. The safety of our clients – and of each and every precious human life endeavoring to find and sustain recovery – is our priority. In order to abide by our mission, we must welcome and encourage reform.
If you need assistance finding a safe treatment environment, please call 888-649-1149 or contact us here. If our facility isn’t an appropriate fit for you, we will do our best to make a referral that meets your needs.
Autumn Khavari is The Process Recovery Center’s Web Content Writer. She received an education in Substance Abuse Counseling from Beal College in Bangor, Maine.