“We’re not in Kansas anymore.” Perils of Off-Shore Addiction Treatment Tourism, part one:

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“We’re not in Kansas anymore.”  Perils of Off-Shore Addiction Treatment Tourism, part one:

by Rick Macnamara, LCSW

Five years ago this week, gunmen invaded Aliviane drug rehab clinic in Ciudad Juarez and coldly murdered seventeen recovering addicts and a dog. Three patients were also wounded in the attack. In the two years previous, thirty two people were murdered at similar drug rehab clinics in Juarez, within sight of the United States border. According to the NY Times, drug cartels have singled out rehabs in the hunt for rivals who are either hiding out or recruiting in those facilities. [1]

These rehab invasions and killings are not uncommon in Mexican drug rehabs and 12 step meetings. In 2010, Fox News reported on twenty seven murders over one weekend at rehabs and meetings in Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez. There is not enough space here to list every occurrence of rehab violence. So far, there have not been similar attacks on US soil, although I have been advised that there has been a problem in Southern California Spanish-speaking meetings with sexual harassment, prompting creation of posters and literature about creating a safe recovery environment.

My review of news reports about rehab violence in Mexico over the past five years has not turned up any evidence that Americans were involved. Most of the drug rehab clinics frequented by Americans are outside the cities in resort areas of Cancun, Baja California and Monterrey, areas that have not seen significant cartel activity. However, these reports serve to point out at least one of the differences between addiction treatment in the US and at offshore facilities and should be of concern to anyone considering Addiction Treatment Tourism in Mexico or elsewhere.

There are certain reported advantages of seeking treatment outside the US: often the cost is far less, the anonymity may be better, and rehab in an exotic location may be a welcome break from a dysfunctional home environment. Disadvantages can be language difficulties, exposure to environmental hazards such as disease and pestilence, and use of unfamiliar and potentially dangerous treatment modalities.[2]

According to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), there are a number of centers worldwide that use LSD, MDMA, Ibogaine and Ayahuasca in their treatments of a variety of mental health and addiction treatments. The treatment facility websites often tout the use of these “herbal” remedies as far superior to traditional addiction treatment methods. Perhaps. There are a number of active studies around the globe on the efficacy of these substances in treatment, but these substances are illegal in the United States and any of these studies should be considered to be investigational or experimental.[3][4]

The point of this short article is that as a consumer of addiction treatment services you must be an educated customer. Do the research and ask a lot of questions before taking the leap to an offshore facility. Research the laws, ask to speak with former clients who have agreed to do so, read the news about the locations you are considering. Learn to be safe! If you do decide to travel, find out about visitor visas, the address and phone number of the US Embassy or Consulate and make sure your cell phone will work in that country.

The allure of treatment in Costa Rica, Thailand, Sweden, or Mexico can be very compelling, but do your homework first and resist falling prey to a treatment center’s marketing hype. As with many heavily-promoted things, the hype may not accurately reflect the reality.

Copyright 2014-2015 Rick Macnamara, LCSW

Rick Macnamara, LCSW, is Editor and Publisher of behavioral health news aggregator site RecoverBusinessDaily.com and author of the upcoming book: NOT YOUR DADDY’S REHAB: How to Maximize Your Recovery and Keep Your Sanity in Today’s Addiction Treatment Industrial Complex.



[1] Lacey, M. (2009, Sep 04). 17 are killed at mexican drug rehab center. New York Times (1923-Current File)

[2] CanAm MediTravel http://www.canammeditravel.com/medical-procedures/substance-abuse-treatment/

[3] Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) http://www.maps.org

[4] http://safehavenibogaine.com/our-treatment-plan/treatment-at-safe-haven/

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