How Rehabs Fudge Their "Success Rates"

By ________________________ 08/10/11

Suncoast, a Scientology-linked facility in Florida, is running countless ads claiming it has the best rate of any rehab in America. Unfortunately, that's not true.

Suncoast's Narconon affiliation means you can expect a lot of sauna-time. Photo via

Ads promoting Suncoast Rehabilitation Center of Spring Hill, Florida, have proliferated all over Facebook recently, proudly promoting the rehab's astounding 76% success rate as the "Highest of any Rehab Program" in the country. That's quite a claim when it comes to a malady that's plagued mankind since the dawn of time. So in an attempt to find out exactly how they measured "success," we decided to give Suncoast a call. Our first phone call was answered by a perky Admissions Counselor named Rene.

"What's your definition of success?" we asked.

"Success means that our patients are alcohol and drug-free."

How do you make sure they are really drug-free?

"They call them up and ask them."

Who conducts this research?

"We do!" she chirpily replied.

In other words, Suncoast Rehab calculates its success rate solely based on the self-evaluation of its former clients. But mountains of research has proved that such surveys are notoriously inaccurate. When ex-clients are doing well, they are much more likely to take the rehab's calls. Clients who are doing badly tend to avoid them, skewing the poll results. Suncoast, which is licensed by the state of Florida, pays a fee to Narconon—a controversial Scientology-supported addiction rehab organization—to use its eight-book program. As we recently reported, Narconon's program basically advises addicts and alcoholics to sweat out their demons in sweltering eight-hour sauna sessions, while feeding them near-toxic amounts of minerals and vitamins. Suncoast claims it has no affiliation with the Church. Instead, says Admissions Director Eric Mitchell, Suncoast's counselors work hard to "get to the source—the real problem that lead our clients to drug use in the first place." But while Mitchell repeatedly talked up Suncoast's success rate, he was a little hazy about the details. When we asked him who checked in with former clients he replied that "the research is done by an outside agency," which he couldn't name, contradicting claims by Rene. Nor could he enlighten us as to how this research was conducted.

In the large scheme of things, Suncoast's sins are not such a big deal. The rehab serves only 25 clients at a time, a tiny fraction of the people who seek treatment at huge institutions like Betty Ford and Hazelden. In fact, if not for its ballsy ad campaign,  we might have never have noticed it at all. But we did. Of course, Suncoast isn't the first rehab to fudge its numbers. Surely it won't be the last. In their bid to draw paying customers, many facilities across the nation make outlandish claims about their success rates, which often tend to be wildly exaggerated. Maybe that's just the nature of advertising. It's one thing to engage in hyperbole when you're pitching condoms or beer. But when you're demanding $20,000 a month or more from people trying to save their lives, you're bound to a higher standard of accuracy. 

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