Looking for Drug Rehab Online

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(c)2014-2015 Rick Macnamara

Some thoughts about looking for reliable drug rehab information online

As part of the research I am doing for my book on the pitfalls in the Addiction Treatment Industry, I spend a lot of time online using academic databases like OBIS and ERIC.  I also spend part of each day putting myself into the mindset of a family member of an addicted son, daughter or spouse searching for information on the internet, since this is where many people turn for facility information.  What I have discovered is that there is an overwhelming amount of information on line, but may too much of it is unusable.  Some is even laughably awful.

I will not name these laughable websites since I would like to avoid their hate mail, entertaining as I am sure it would be.  The important thing is that these poorly-executed websites clutter up the landscape for people in real need of finding good treatment for their loved one.  I am also not convinced that these junk websites contain errors made by otherwise well-intentioned people because some of their content seems deliberately deceitful.

One example of this is the common marketing practice of establishing a local telephone number or stating in a popup ad or sponsored link on a search engine that they can help a seeker to find a drug rehab right in their own back yard.  This week, one such site popped up when I entered the search term “drug rehab”.  A sponsored ad asked me “Looking for a drug rehab in New Jersey?” and since that is where I live, I clicked on the link.  It brought me to a website that gave me the name of a lumber company called A A Lumber Sales and even showed me where they were on the map, right around the corner from my house.  I have been to that lumber company, but would never confuse them with a drug rehab and I suspect it was the A A in their name that fooled the website’s internal search engine into thinking it had something to do with AA Alcoholics Anonymous.  I explored this website a little further and found dozens of so-called drug rehabs that were actually drug stores, rug stores or just non existent.  Of course, I also found the names of several excellent programs not far away from me, but the entire website did not fill me with confidence.

Next, entering the search term “New Jersey drug rehab” brought me to a website claiming to be a facility located in New Jersey.  The phone number to call, however, was in Hong Kong and as I dug deeper, the site told me about Asian drug abuse treatment facilities.  There were none in New Jersey.

The worst site I visited this week said they were a group practice in New Jersey experienced in drug abuse and mental illness treatment.  There was only one staff member listed, although according to their About Us page, they apparently have other staff working with different demographic groups.  The one person who was listed was featured in a video infomercial embedded on the Home page and he was touting a self-improvement program he created with a name like “The Acme System for Mental Empowerment” (see my effort to avoid hate mail by not giving the correct name?).  I dug into this fellow’s qualifications and he is apparently licensed by the State of New Jersey as a Realtor and Broker, not as a behavioral health professional.  This may explain some of the dead links on the site that brought me to either blurbs about real estate or to “greeked pages”, those pages that feature words like Lorem Ipsum that are put in there by web theme authors as place holders until you enter your own content.

If the needs of family members were not so desperate, these websites would be   funny.  The fact is that family members are often in the middle of a life or death crisis following an overdose or arrest.  Too often, the discharge planner at the hospital is unfamiliar with any but the most local treatment programs, and the court system is less helpful than that.  Where will they find the information they need?  The Yellow Pages?  Friends?  The internet?

There are excellent programs out there, but hacking your way through the thick undergrowth of junk websites and misinformation to find them is overwhelming under normal circumstances and near impossible in the middle of a crisis.  These junk sites may only exist because of greater problem of the lack of regulation over the entire Addiction Treatment Industry, but it points out how important it is for all of us who work with addicts and their families to be as knowledgeable as possible about the really good treatment programs to help our clients in their time of need.

UPDATE:  Today, I found a national directory of addiction providers website in the top ten of search results that uses an interesting deceptive technique.  Searching by state listings shows a list of facilities with “ratings and comments” by previous clients.  I chose New Jersey and recognized many of the facilities on the list.  The catch is that to find out the facility’s telephone contact number, you need to click a link and the number that comes up is an 800#.  Unfortunately, no matter which facility phone number link you click, the telephone number is the same 800#.  This also happens no matter where in the country you are searching for help.  I tried to register to leave a good review for a program in NJ that I think very highly of and was unable to either register or to leave a comment.  In any case, many of the comments on this site seem very canned and generic so it’s possible that they are just peppered around the site automatically for window dressing.

If I owned any of the facilities listed on that site, I would demand that they stop co-opting my prospective clients’ telephone traffic this way.


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