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Paul Zimmerman
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Drug Treatment Centers Must Walk a Fine Line With Respect to Marketing

A recent New York Times article entitled “How Staten Island’s Drug Problem Made It a Target for Poaching Patients,” details how recruiters for treatment centers as near as Long Island and upstate New York, and as far away as Arizona, California and Florida are soliciting recovering addicts from addiction treatment centers on Staten Island to leave and go to other centers. Recruiters allegedly find addicts, or in some cases even call patients while they are receiving treatment from other centers, and offer them money to seek treatment at a different facility. They also routinely pay for these individuals to travel to a new treatment center, where presumably they are enrolled and the marketer is paid a fee. This story brings to national attention an issue that has been building within the behavioral health community for years.

The article points out that “New York regulators can penalize addiction treatment organizations if they are found to be ‘soliciting or receiving, or agreeing to receive, any fee’ to or from a third party for the referral of a patient.” This practice is far from new, and has been employed by substance abuse treatment providers (including residential facilities) catering to recovering addicts across the nation. Unbeknownst to many providers, even those which are well-intentioned, such activities are strictly regulated by federal authorities and separately by  each state. Some states even flatly outlaw the practices or otherwise provide strict criteria for entering into such relationships. Aside from the ethical implications, engaging in such activities can expose the violators to potential Attorney General action, payer recoupment risk (private and governmental), and even criminal allegations from local, state and federal enforcement authorities.

It is critical that substance abuse treatment providers carefully analyze the legal requirements in their own state, as well as the rules pertaining to the utilization of call centers both within and outside of their state. In those states which prohibit such call center relationships, strategies for responsible recruitment may be executed through compliant employment and alternative marketing models. Qualified legal counsel can help substance abuse treatment providers protect themselves while also ensuring responsible and ethical care for those they are in business to serve.

This blog post is not offered as, and should not be relied on as, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice in specific situations.