California Wildfires Highlight the Need for More Oversight of Rehab Facilities

Wildfires in California Spotlight the Rehab Riviera

California Wildfires Rehab

The recent wildfires that tore through California further underscored the need for better oversight of addiction treatment facilities in the area. The human cost was high all over the state, but the fires in Southern California have harmed an especially vulnerable group of people: people in the midst of their addiction treatment.

The Woolsey fire in Southern California hit LA hard: Malibu was put under a mandatory evacuation order, which included all sober living and treatment facilities in the area. Malibu has about one sober living or treatment center per square mile, and as the fires raged on, it became clear that many of them were underprepared for a natural disaster. The centers struggled to hold onto clients rather than refer them to other facilities, putting people in the early stages of recovery in hotels and Airbnbs where monitoring clients was difficult.

But in the aftermath of the fires, it’s become clear that the overextended accreditation agencies that evaluate treatment centers also failed patients. While these agencies require centers to have an emergency plan in place for disasters, they don’t actually ask to see a comprehensive plan. As one center owner put it, “they defer to us, to our good judgment… A lot of things you have to just sort of wing in the moment.”

And wing it they did: patients were transported in vans normally used for golf outings; the vans drove through smoke and flames for six hours, during which facility owners tried desperately to find alternative accommodation for their clients. For recovering addicts, who are particularly vulnerable to a lack of stability, the experience was jarring to say the least.

Addiction Treatment Center Practices in California Have Been a Concern for Awhile

Of course, disasters happen and no one can plan for them perfectly: some ethical rehabs were also caught off guard by the fires. However, the California wildfires only serve to increase scrutiny of an industry that desperately needs to clean up its act.

Private rehabs in California are becoming a public health hazard. The Southern coastal region, of which Malibu is a part, is home to a high concentration of rehab facilities of varying quality. Known as “Rehab Riviera,” the area has been the focus of a number of exposés in recent years due to the unethical — and in some cases, predatory — practices of some of the rehabs’ owners.

Some centers’ websites feature pictures of medical doctors treating patients. But when patients arrive, they discover that no doctors are onsite. Others don’t inform patients that they’ll be living a bus ride away from the rehab’s clinical facilities. But these practices are relatively benign compared to patient brokering, also called body brokering.

“Body brokering” is widespread among unethical treatment centers in California. Body brokers — essentially recruiters — are paid a kickback by treatment centers for each new client they recruit. Unscrupulous brokers lurk at recovery meetings, scour the streets for homeless clients and even hang out at drug court to find new patients. And after a brokered patient’s insurance runs out, rehabs will turn them out onto the streets.

People Turn to Google to Find Addiction Treatment

In a very Californian twist, there’s a Silicon Valley connection here. A key way that California’s unethical treatment centers used to find new clients is by paying to get top ranking in search results related to keywords like “treatment center” through Google’s ad service. This meant that smaller, ethical rehab facilities without massive marketing budgets were pushed out of search results, leaving them with no way to reach potential patients.

By exploiting Google Ads, unscrupulous treatment centers were able to recruit numerous patents, who are in turn forced to turn to Google when the medical system fails them. “Google is the No. 1 referrer of addiction treatment in America – not health professionals,” observes Greg Williams, executive vice president of the nonprofit Facing Addiction. “And so Google possesses an inordinate amount of power to determine the fates of millions of desperate addicts who ask the search engine for help. The experience is more like choosing a restaurant for dinner than seeking care for a medical condition, which underscores how much more seriously addiction needs to be taken by health care providers.

Google has taken steps to address this: it recently banned rehab-related Google Ads in a number of languages, and is considering banning all addiction-related ad searches. But scammers have found a new way to get clients: by purchasing misspellings of reputable facilities’ names. And shady rehab centers have started churning out loads of content with rehab-related keywords to game Google’s SEO parameters.

There is a Place For Self-Referral

Google clearly still has work to do in this area, and so does the medical community. Addiction is a serious health issue, and many physicians lack the training to treat it. The medical community as a whole has yet to fully accept addiction as a life-threatening medical condition. At the very least, medical doctors need to be prepared to refer patients struggling with addiction to a choice of safe facilities.

There can be many reasons that a person is not willing to ask his/her doctor for help to find a rehab. For many medical professionals the old adage holds true: if your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. There are a plethora of treatment centers modeled around a clinical/educational style of treatment. White coats, psychiatrists, medications, classrooms, cafeterias and 4 to a room are the norm for most government/medical accepted referrals. Addressing the opioid epidemic, more and more medicine assisted treatments are becoming the norm. This may be the right treatment for many opiate addicts. The medicine-assisted treatment model may not be the best fit for an alcoholic, cocaine or nicotine addict. Absolutely, the medicine-assisted treatment model will not work for a codependent person without substance issues.

Serenity Vista Offers an Ethical – Holistic Alternative

Many are now seeking a luxurious, affordable and ethical alternative to California rehabs. If you’re seeking personal development, spiritual enlightenment or help with addiction, Serenity Vista’s retreat and rehab programs offer your solution. Our staff of Canadian and American addiction experts will work with you to ensure a safe, comfortable and sustainable recovery.

Each of our guests is unique. That’s why our programs are highly personalized, and our peaceful facility in Panama is a tropical paradise far away from the stressful environment that can perpetuate the cycle of addiction. We’re located just a short flight away from many major cities in the US, but we welcome guests from all over the world. And the buying power of USD in Panama means you’ll receive world-class treatment at affordable rates.

If you’re ready to make the change you’ve been longing for, contact us today to find out how we can help you start living your best life.


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