Kickbacks, marketers infiltrate addiction treatment industry

Florida's addiction treatment industry is overrun with marketers who collect as much as $500 for each addict they refer to a treatment center or halfway house, and often coerce recovering addicts with cash for drugs to get them into detox programs, according to a BuzzFeed News investigation.

Several recovering addicts detailed the inner workings of an industry in which former addicts to become "marketers"--also known as "body brokers" and "junkie hunters"--who recruit those that have lapsed from treatment or evicted from a sober home into addiction treatment programs. Halfway house and detox clinic owners pay the marketers to bring patients to their program so they can bill insurance companies for treatment services, according to the article. Marketers have been known to lure addicts to a program by funding travel expenses or providing cash for drugs so they test positive when checking into treatment.

Other halfway houses in Florida have set up a system that provides recovering addicts with free rent or grocery store gift cards as long as they attend an affiliated outpatient program. Last year, the New York Times uncovered a similar scheme in which recovering addicts in unregulated "three-quarter houses," or sober homes, were provided rent-free housing as long as they attended specific outpatient treatment programs, which were reimbursed by Medicaid. 

Former addicts also described cases in which marketers paid insurance premiums for those that enrolled in a halfway house and an outpatient program. Although many of the addiction treatment owners denied providing kickbacks to marketers or patients, others within the industry tell BuzzFeed News that kickbacks are a common practice. However, local law enforcement is hesitant to devote the resources necessary to investigate potential fraud, and the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) lacks the funding, the personnel and sometimes the authority, to enforce state regulations.

Addiction treatment providers in Florida have tried to alter the industry's unsavory reputation for fraud, particularly as payers are ramping up investigations into substance abuse treatment providers. Some, like Cigna, have elected to pull out of the Florida marketplace altogether, citing an increase of addiction treatment claims. The industry suffered a major setback recently when Millennium paid $256 million for submitting claims for unnecessary urine screening tests.  

To learn more:
- here's the Buzzfeed News investigation

Related Articles:
New York City's unregulated 'three-quarter houses' ripe with Medicaid fraud
Addiction providers look to alter the industry's growing reputation for fraud
Payers are ramping up addiction treatment audits
Millennium Health faces more legal backlash for unnecessary drug tests
How a healthcare CEO committed fraud and walked away a richer man