What to Look Out For: Sober Home Fraud

Realizing that you need help is the first step to recovery. Seeking treatment for addiction is an area that people don’t have a lot of familiarity with, leading to critical choices often made in times of crisis or desperation. Unfortunately, scams are at work across the country to take advantage of the most vulnerable. In 2020, the Department of Justice charged 347 defendants for defrauding insurance companies over $6 billion in relation to illegal opioid operations, and $845 million of which was attributed to what the DoJ refers to as sober home fraud schemes.1

Sober home fraud mainly occurs when treatment facilities use “body brokers” to recruit patients. In return, the body brokers receive monetary kickbacks while the treatment facilities charge insurance in the millions for care that’s often unneeded. Once insurance is depleted, patients are thrown out into the streets. Most of the time a patient goes from center to center, caught in a cycle that could lead to relapse, overdose, or even death.

Identifying these common practices can help you or a family member avoid falling prey to one of these schemes.

  • Brokers frequent locations where individuals with opioid use disorder tend to congregate such as halfway houses, detox centers, or even group counseling sessions. Once they have their target, brokers start to build trust with them. 
  • Brokers falsify information by giving their victims a fake name and/or address to insurance companies. This makes it easier for the treatment centers to bill insurance for the “care” they provide, and in return, the brokers receive a financial reward for their services.
  • Brokers entice victims by offering incentives like free airfare, luring addicts to treatment centers that are often far away from where they live. This way victims are essentially forced to continue treatment as they are stuck in unfamiliar places with no support from family and/or friends (and usually no way to get back home).
  • Florida has become a popular location for these schemes, so be wary and do your own research on these centers before committing to anything. Information on treatment centers should be easy to find.
  • Many of these centers require a positive drug test and often ask newcomers to get high in order to be admitted for treatment. No legitimate center has this requirement. 

How to Evaluate a Treatment Center

If you think you found a treatment center that’s a good fit, remember to utilize all the tools that you have available to you before making a decision.

  • Usually, all the information you need is on their website (if they don’t have one, it’s a sign that something may not be right). If you are unable to visit the location in person, call the numbers listed to find more information.
  • Research the staff on sites like LinkedIn, which is a good resource to check the background of employees and to see if staff profiles are similar across both websites. Reverse image search any available staff profiles so that way you can see if they used stock photos rather than photos of real people.
  • Treatment centers should focus more on the treatment they offer rather than the “image” they are trying to sell to you. Try to get as much information on the treatment they offer as you can. If it’s not enough, then it’s a sign that you should look elsewhere.
  • Use the provided address to look the location up on Google Maps, which has a handy street view feature so you can see what the facility looks like from the outside (that way, you can see if the facility provided accurate photos AND check out the kind of area it’s in). 
  • Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) programs offer a combination of opioids (such as buprenorphine and methadone) and cognitive behavioral therapy to help treat opioid abuse disorder. While not all treatment centers offer MAT, it’s a good indication that you’re in good hands when they do, as it’s an evidence-based option with multiple studies backing it as an effective treatment for opioid addiction. 

It’s scary to think that there are people out there that prey on the most vulnerable in the worst of times. Fortunately, there are resources available that you can take advantage of to help make your decision easier. 

For more information on sober home fraud, go to the Health Care Fraud Unit section on the Department of Justice website. You can also read more about sober home fraud here, here and here.

Also, be sure to check out the Substance Abuse Clinics on NeedyMeds Free/Low-cost/Sliding Scale database for cost-effective treatment options in your area! 

 12020 National Health Care Fraud and Opioid Takedown