Secret shopper study raises concerns about cost, recruitment tactics of addiction treatment programs

An audit of more than 600 residential care programs for opioid use disorder raised concerns about high costs and misleading recruitment practices by the programs, according to new research from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The secret-shopper-style study had callers pose as uninsured cash-paying individuals using heroin and seeking addiction treatment. The findings showed that many of the programs required up-front payments and there was a sharp disparity in costs between for-profit programs and nonprofit programs.

The study also found that one-third of the callers were offered admission before clinical evaluation and that for-profit programs frequently used misleading recruitment techniques such as offering to pay for transportation.

“If a hospital was admitting anyone who walked into the emergency room regardless of how sick they are, giving them treatment that may or may not help them, we’d find that absurd,” said corresponding author Michael Barnett in a February 1, 2021 WBUR article.

Barnett, assistant professor of health policy and  management at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, added that residential addiction treatment programs should be better regulated. “We need stronger regulation of the type of care that’s provided by these facilities, and the screening of which patient is most appropriate,” he said.

Read the WBUR article: Secret Addiction Treatment Shoppers Log Hard Sell Tactics At Some Residential Programs

Read an NPR article: As Addiction Deaths Surge, Profit-Driven Rehab Industry Faces ‘Severe Ethical Crisis’