They often call themselves “interventionists” or “treatment consultants” or “addiction specialists.” They’re on Facebook, in hospital waiting rooms and lurking outside 12-step meetings. They prey on desperate families, offer free flights to Florida and promise miraculous results at out-of-state facilities that boast pony rides on the beach and 1000-thread-count sheets. Each body they deliver to a particular facility earns them $1,000 – $3,000 in commissions, depending on insurance coverage, willingness to self-pay and length of stay.
The treatment provided is often substandard (most states don’t regulate treatment facilities as rigorously as New York does), not suited to the patient’s individual needs and cut short when the family runs out of cash.
Given the magnitude of our opioid crisis and the fact that families will do anything to save the life of their loved one, Long Island has been fertile ground for these activities. At a recent public forum in Hauppauge, several families tearfully talked about sending their kids off to Delray Beach on a plane and getting them back in a box. They talked about getting bills in excess of $100,000 for unnecessary drug tests. They wondered aloud whether relapses and re-admissions were part of the business model. They aren’t alone as several news articles have asked the same question.
But that’s about to come to a screeching halt. And not a moment too soon.
In a recent letter, Rob Kent who serves as General Counsel for New York State’s Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) recently warned:
“When OASAS was created the NYS Legislature sought to ensure consistent quality of services and protection from unregulated persons or entitles holding themselves out as offering specialized expertise or services to vulnerable persons and families. The current opioid crisis throughout the country has created opportunities for persons in recovery and others seeking professional status by which to be of service.
Unfortunately, it has also given rise to many who seek to exploit the pain and fear at the root of addiction by falsely representing their credentials, expertise, background, and connections with treatment programs, some also fraudulent, to further their own financial gain.
Section 32.05 of the mental hygiene law provides that no substance use disorder services may be established without the approval of the Commissioner. This means provision of addiction services, as defined by the Office, must also be approved by the Office. OASAS authority includes monitoring for these unauthorized services or unauthorized practitioners and taking actions to stop them and prevent them from harming potential patients and their families.
Authorized practitioners who are licensed in New York, credentialed or authorized by OASAS must uphold standards of conduct that include prohibitions against false representations of expertise, promoting personal gain or profit over the public good, and non-exploitation of service recipients in all phases of delivery of addiction services: prior to admission, during treatment and after discharge.
OASAS intends to use its statutory authority to regulate such services to identify and, wherever possible, bring unauthorized practitioners and services into compliance with state and federal laws.”
These warnings were amplified in a recent Local Service Bulletin, and here’s what it all means:
LIMITATIONS AND PROHIBITIONS
- No substance use disorder services may be provided as part of an arrangement between a practitioner and a program for the exchange of remuneration solely to entice an individual or a provider program to direct a potential patient to one of the parties.
- Authorized practitioners and programs must provide services consistent with both state and federal laws including, but not limited to, patient confidentiality, fraud and deceptive business and marketing practices, labor and employment.
- Authorized practitioners may not engage in “dual relationships” or “multiple relationships.
- Authorized practitioners may only provide substance use disorder services, including pre-admission consultations, as an employee of an authorized program.
- Provides such information at no cost to the consumer, or provides full disclosure to consumers about any fees which must be consistent with the fair market value for such information services and are not based on the potential revenue value of a potential service recipient to a substance use services program or of the goods or services provided by the program;
- Does not attempt by any means to steer or lead a consumer to select or consider a particular authorized practitioner or program;
- Does not provide or represent itself as providing diagnostic or counseling services or assessments of an individual’s need for substance use disorder treatment services and does not make any promises of cure or guarantees of treatment outcome;
- Does not provide or arrange for transportation of a potential consumer to or from the location of an authorized program delivering substance use disorder services.A substance use information service that provides information to consumers upon request about providers of substance use disorder services to enable consumers to select appropriate substance use disorder treatment programs, provided that such information service:
Violate the law and you’ll lose any credentials, certifications and licenses you might have. If you don’t have any, OASAS will take other actions, which with any luck will include a referral to the NYS Attorney General’s Office.
OASAS is actively taking reports about potential offenders via email.
This is a huge step in the right direction and NYS OASAS should be applauded. Now, the New York State Legislature should take the next step and pass comprehensive legislation – like Florida recently did – that expressly and clearly makes patient brokering a crime.
Because that’s exactly what it is.