New Documentary Exposes the Greed of $35 Billion Addiction Treatment Industry

By Zachary Siegel 05/27/15

Widely unregulated and rife with fraud, The Business of Recovery exposes the addiction treatment industry.

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From Gabrielle Glaser’s 12- step critique that ran in The Atlantic to Dr. Lance Dodes’ new book which “debunks” the alleged bad science of 12-step treatment, the past couple of years has seen a resurgence of outspoken AA critics.

The newest iteration against the 12-step “treatment” and the $35 billion dollar addiction-treatment industry is in the form of a documentary called The Business of Recovery, directed by Adam Finberg.

In an article for Alternet.org, Finberg wrote, “The degree to which this health crisis seems to be worsening as an entire unchecked industry arose around it captured my attention,” as one of the reasons he wanted to do the film.

The documentary examines several different but connected facets of the treatment industry. For example, the majority of rehabs in America, which can charge $1,000+ per day, continue to operate under a 12-step/AA paradigm despite abysmal success rates. The documentary therefore asks what people are really paying for, given AA is by and large free and open to the public.

Another recovery network under scrutiny in the film is the recent proliferation of sober living residences across the U.S., which Finberg dubbed, “the Wild West of the industry,” because they carry on unchecked. Finberg’s call to action is to demand federal oversight of sober living homes.

He writes, “I learned that these environments are largely unregulated and could be deadly. Imagine two dozen, barely sober, unsupervised individuals in a house.”

Though the academic literature is sparse, there are researchers in the U.S. studying the efficacy of recovery residences. For instance, studies show that people with substance use disorders who spend at least six months living in Oxford Homes benefit in terms of longer periods of abstinence and overall quality of life.

However, there are indeed instances of for-profit recovery residences being charged with fraud and abuse of Medicaid.

“An industry with human lives in the balance cannot continue business as usual,” Finberg wrote. He hopes the documentary sparks much needed dialogue about the treatment industry at a policy level.

As for the documentaries success, all of the showings at the recent Newport Beach Film Festival in California were sold out. Producers are working toward introducing a wide release later this year.

Check out The Fix's Q&A with producer Greg Horvath and watch the official trailer for the documentary below.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

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