“South Florida Saved My Life”

An old friend messaged me early this morning, sending over a link to the latest national news story discussing (and, well, openly condemning) the current ‘recovery’ practices in Southern Florida. NBC News published an investigative piece late Sunday night, which focuses on the greed and corruption that has undeniably plagued the Southern Florida treatment industry over the course of the past several years. The article, which is titled, “Florida’s Billion-Dollar Drug Treatment Industry is Plagued by Overdoses, Fraud”, begins with an anecdotal account of one young woman’s battle with heroin addiction, and goes on to explain the pervasive imitation that has come to tarnish the name of an industry originally founded on good intent.

In recent weeks, this area of the country has been receiving quite a bit of national coverage. The ubiquitous malpractice is being brought to light, and heart-wrenching tales of suburban college grads, falling victim to the dereliction of the Florida rehab hustle, are being imparted in hopes of preventing more innocent men and women from falling into the toxic treatment trap.

What Can Be Done?

“The way I see it,” my friend went on to say, “there are two options. The bad apples can be eliminated, which takes much more effort, or the entire industry can be eliminated, which seems like it may be the easier path.” I can see what he was getting at – sometimes it is much easier to throw the baby out with the bathwater. However, he was failing to pick up on a few key points (and who could blame him, seeing as the national news stories seem to be leaving out these key points as well). First of all, corruption within the industry is far from limited to Southern Florida. Yes, things have gotten severely out of hand in this region specifically, but money-hungry opportunists are everywhere. Fraudulent treatment centers have been popping up in other major recovery hubs; in California, Massachusetts, Texas, Tennessee, New York, and Arizona… where there is ample good being done, there will always be those waiting on the sidelines to exploit, pervert, and take advantage. Secondly, while there is an inordinate amount of corruption in Southern Florida, the area originally gained recognition as being a haven of recovery for addicts and alcoholics – the foundation of the industry in this specific region is scrupulous and law-abiding. There was good recovery before there was bad recovery. And those places – the ethical and effective places – are still around. And they are still capable of making an overwhelming difference in the lives of suffering addicts and their families.

Southern Florida Addiction Treatment

In fact, the number of certified, legitimate, and profoundly valuable recovery centers that have been established within the past several years is comparable to the amount of fraudulent flop-houses. With some extensive research and professional insight, it is not all too difficult to differentiate the good from the bad. You just need to know what to look for.

Avoiding Southern Florida recovery because of the bad rap it has gotten may mean the difference between lifelong, fulfilled sobriety and a tireless search for adequate treatment. Some of the most nationally renowned treatment centers are located in Southern Florida. Inevitable debasement does not change this fact. Not to mention, those who have gotten sober and stuck around have become members of one of the largest and most supportive sober communities in the country. The trick to weeding out the good from the bad is simple – follow the steps listed below.

  1. Look into all certifications.

With the recent influx of fraudulent treatment centers, accreditations and certifications are becoming more essential to operation – and more difficult to obtain. Before committing to a specific program, look into all of the certifications that the facility has obtained. First and foremost, make sure that the facility is JHACO Accredited. See what ties it has to the community. Has been it approved by the local chamber of commerce? Doing extensive research on this facet of the program in particular may mean the difference between legitimacy and degeneracy.

  1. Speak with actual alumni.

If the center you are looking into has been around for longer than several months, you should be able to access a list of program alumni – men and/or women who have graduated from the inpatient program and are still sober and active in the sober community. Request a list of alumni from a facility staff member and make some phone calls. Ask for brief testimonials, and prepare a short list of any pertinent questions you may have. There is no better way to get an authentic grasp of the facility than to speak with past patients.

  1. Ask any and all questions you may have to the Director of Admissions.

At any good treatment center, there will be at least one staff member who is willing to stay on the phone with you for hours on end, thoroughly and sincerely answering and addressing each and every one of your questions and concerns. Find this staff member (who is typically the Director of Admissions), and fire away. It is better to come off as obnoxiously overbearing and walk away with the information you need than to make educated guesses – especially when it comes to the livelihood of those dearest to you.

  1. Look for specifics.

Addiction is far from a one-size-fits-all disease, and it is important that the program you are looking into will meet all of the needs of your loved one. Perhaps your loved one has a personal history of trauma – look for a trauma-focused treatment center. Make sure that the program is gender-specific (separating men from women), and that any potential co-occurring disorders will be addressed. Many addicts and alcoholics simultaneously suffer from mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. If your loved one has struggled with mental illness in the past, be sure that the program comes equipped with a strong psychiatric component.

  1. Read the website thoroughly.

In a lot of cases, you can tell quite a bit about the legitimacy of the program based on the attention to detail that is put into the website. Do you see a lot of nonsensical content, phone numbers, and an excessive amount of sunsets and palm trees? This might not be a good sign. Check out all of the website pages thoroughly – read some blog posts, look at the qualifications and personal experiences of staff members, and take a good look at the program breakdown. If you leave the site feeling informed and reassured (rather than confused), this is probably a good sign.

  1. Talk to the team members.

Staying in constant communication with the staff members (therapists, case managers, and behavioral technicians) is essential to a positive treatment experience. Look for programs that strongly emphasize family involvement. Before making any final decisions, speak with a staff member about the specifics of the family program. How often are family therapy sessions offered? What kind of resources are offered to the family members of the patient? The more the family is integrated into the program, the better.

  1. Ask for referrals from addiction specialists.

Find a qualified addiction therapist or an experienced interventionist close to you, and ask for a detailed list of valid recommendations. If possible, schedule an in-person meeting with a specialists and describe the specifics of your situation in detail. He or she will be able to recommend a legitimate, widely trusted, and long-standing treatment facility based on your personalized needs, or the individualized needs of your addicted loved one.

Overcoming Controversy

Since the NBC article was published on Sunday night, the Southern Florida recovery community has come together in a big way – sharing their sobriety dates along with the hashtag #tellthewholestory. For every individual who has lost his or her life to the disease of addiction, there are between 5 and 10 who have come to live happy, joyous, free, and fulfilled loves of sobriety. It is important, now more than ever, that we do not forget about all of the dedicated and compassionate men and women who still strive to do GOOD in this world. Be the change you wish to see, and know that legitimate help is always available to those who seek it.