Legal and Ethical Drug and Alcohol Treatment Marketing

How to Safely Market your Drug Rehab

If you operate or are employed by a substance abuse treatment center, your personal freedom is at risk. If you haven’t changed how you do addiction marketing you are most likely breaking the law. This new rule took effect on October 24th, 2018. If you were paying expenses for marketing before that date, you need to pay attention to the details of the new legislation. Otherwise, you risk losing what you’ve worked so hard to build.

Bottom line: If you didn’t change how you do addiction marketing and pay expenses on or before October 24, 2018, you are most likely breaking the law.

You may be breaking the law for doing things now that you believe are legal and ethical.

New Drug Treatment Laws 2018-2019

New treatment laws recently took effect when President Donald J. Trump signed the Support for Patients and Communities Act. These laws are no joke. They are so punitive; you must learn all you can. If not, you can get in serious trouble. 

Learn everything about Subtitle J – Eliminating Kickbacks in Recovery Section 8122.

The most common thing people in the industry are talking about is patient brokering.  It’s gone. It’s off the table. There are no more paid referrals in the drug treatment industry. And every sleight of the hand you can think about for getting around the law has already been baked into the legislation. Don’t take paid referrals. Seriously. 

What happened?

There is a considerable effort to stop the abuses by people who engage in unethical patient brokering practices. As a result, it is now illegal to solicit, pay or offer any remuneration for patient referral to a treatment center. 

The penalty for soliciting, paying, or offering remuneration of any kind for a  referral to a treatment center,  is up to 10 years in prison and up to a  $200,000 fine per occurrence.

Safe Harbor Provision

Before I dive into all the other frightening terms of the new law, I will point out there is a solution for going forward. Yes, there’s a legal and ethical way of staying compliant with parts of the new law. There is a safe harbor exemption for “personal service and management contracts.” The safe harbor provision allows treatment centers to hire reputable marketing companies to promote their facilities. It even allows for patient referrals under strict guidelines.

There is a safe harbor exemption for personal service and management contracts concerning patient referrals.

Addiction Treatment Center Marketing the Legal Way

The safe harbor exemption for addiction treatment marketing has eight requirements that must be met in writing between the parties. When these conditions are all met then the safe harbor exemptions will apply.

  • A written agreement signed by the parties
  • A term of at least one year. (see note # 1)
  • The agreement must specify aggregate payment, which must be set in advance. (see note # 2)
  • Compensation must be fair market reasonable, fair market value, and determined through arm’s length negotiations.
  • An agreement must set forth the exact services required to be performed.
  • Compensation must not be determined in a manner that considers the volume or value of referrals.
  • All arrangements must be in one contract. There cannot be multiple overlapping contracts to circumvent the one-year rule.
  • The arrangement must serve a commercially reasonable business purpose.

I am not a lawyer, and I suggest you contact a lawyer to advise you on all the ways the Support for Patients and Communities Act can affect you.  The purpose of this article is to alert you to what I have learned based on extensively researching publicly available information.

Avoid Undefined Violations of the Law

Please don’t make the mistake, thinking that section 8122 only pertains to paying a patient broker referral, it goes much, much further.  As with all new laws, I am worried about the unintended consequences of some of the undefined language in the law. The below language is wide open to interpretation.

“You cannot pay or offer remuneration, in cash or in kind, in exchange for an individual using the services of that treatment facility”

ethical drug treatment marketing
New Laws will stop Body Brokers’. These are people who get kickbacks to lure drug addicts to go to bad rehabs.

In my opinion, that language was written to stop unscrupulous patient brokers, who paid addicts, to go to specific drug or alcohol treatment centers. I think, almost certainly, it was meant to wipe out all unscrupulous body brokers. What’s that you ask? These are people who purchase drugs for suffering addicts. Body brokers sometimes will even go so far as to give drug addicts money to buy drugs. This is so they will “test dirty” and qualify to go to treatment.

As a person in recovery, I can’t think of anything worse than inducing someone to relapse. So I believe it is safe to say, that if anyone pays a person, or gives them drugs, or something of value to go to any rehab, they have committed a federal crime. I would enjoy seeing “examples” made of these type of people.

One Mom shared “My 22-year-old son is a drug addict who has been caught up in the vicious cycle of detox, treatment and relapsing — all perpetrated by a terrible scheme called “patient brokering.”

Car Service as Part of Drug Rehab Marketing

Is it illegal to buy a plane ticket for someone to travel to treatment? What about picking them up by a paid car service?

The language in the law that states you “You cannot pay or offer remuneration, in cash or in kind, in exchange for an individual using the services of that treatment facility”. Does it mean you cannot pay transportation to treatment? Is it now illegal to buy a plane ticket? Is sending a car service (uber, taxi, limo etc.) to take someone to or from the airport illegal?

Common sense would say picking someone up from the airport via a car service should be legal however the law is unclear. I informed everyone I did business with that they should immediately stop (if they did) paying for transportation to treatment.

Travel Expenses for Drug Treatment Patients

The reason I bring up travel is that it is also an important factor in how you plan your marketing. Do you advertise to people further away than a few hour car ride from your facility? If so, you need to incorporate that into your marketing message and plan.

Why have I spent all this time talking about what is or may be illegal? Simple, you need to consider these things before you design your marketing campaign

Location Based Advertising for Treatment Centers

Why have I spent all this time talking about what is or may be illegal? Simple, you need to consider these things before you plan your marketing campaign.  For example; if you’re located in California and have a marketing campaign that targets the Midwest, and you imply that travel is included,  you could be violating the law. So out of an abundance of caution, you need to avoid the mention of travel. Instead, stress all the specific attributes of your treatment center.   

If your marketing firm hasn’t addressed this with you – run 

800 Recovery Hub has been successfully marketing addiction treatment for over 4 years. This includes radio, television, Google and Bing PPC, SEO, SEO content creation, local search, social media, conversion rate optimization, analytics and much more. Our business model complies with the new federal laws. We also provide call center and live chat services for treatment centers.

Check out all the effective, affordable and ethical marketing programs we offer

Give us a call at 800 673-5950 ext. 3 and find out what we can do for you.

Our fees for treatment center marketing are compatible with the new laws

In compliance with the safe harbor provision, of the Support for Patients and Communities Act, 800 Recovery Hub LLC “The Hub” charges fixed fees only payable in advance for its billable services. The Hub makes no representations, performance projections or representations, or warranties on any of the services it provides.

Note #1 

This provision is intended to ensure that the terms of an agreement cannot be adjusted periodically to take into account referrals or other business between the parties simply by scrapping one agreement and entering into a new agreement with different compensation terms. Thus a short-term contract which may be necessary or desirable for business purposes will not qualify for anti-kickback safe harbor protection.

Note #2

The term “set in advance” is not defined in the safe harbor regulations. However, the OIG interprets the “set in advance” requirement to mean that the total aggregate compensation to be paid over the term of the contract must be determined at the outset of the arrangement. Thus, compensation arrangements based on an hourly rate, where the hours of service can vary, will not qualify for safe harbor protection. This rule is intended to prevent a disguised kickback that could occur if an otherwise legitimate payment for the provision of goods or services were adjusted periodically to reward a party for referring patients or generating other federal healthcare program business.

Do you have a question about treatment center marketing or something else?
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.