The Life or Death Matter of Ethics

by Heather R. Hayes, M.Ed., LPC, CAI

One hundred and ninety seven people die each day from opiate overdoses.

That’s eight per hour, two every fifteen minutes and seventy two thousand a year.

Our nation is deeply in crisis, and for far too long, we haven’t addressed it. But thanks to recent media reports about the staggering number of overdose deaths, unethical treatment centers and so-called “sober houses” in South Florida, a much-needed conversation about industry ethics has been started.

The problem is multi-faceted and includes “body brokering,” a practice in which people are paid to bring in new clients. Kickbacks involve providers receiving money to send patients to a particular facility, or excessive and unnecessary drug testing in order for labs to gain insurance payouts. Some “sober houses” are really just unlicensed and unregulated drug dens because there’s often a payout when patients cycle through rehab and these flophouses. All of this means people suffering from addiction are treated like commodities and aren’t getting the help they need.

Yes, that news is grim – really grim. But the ray of light here is that we can change this! We can give people the knowledge and power they need to find effective and ethical treatment, and we can come together as professionals to end these horrific abuses in our industry.

First, it’s going to take everyone’s efforts to combat this. We need to inform our children of the dangers of addiction. We need to remove the stigma and teach them to speak out when they see someone going down the wrong path. If we teach them to support one another and to seek treatment, we can begin to stop this nation’s drug problem, and make help more accessible.

Next, we need to teach parents to stay informed. They need to know what to look for and how to recognize signs of substance abuse and addiction. (It’s okay to ask questions your kids don’t want to answer!) But perhaps most importantly, families must know which questions to ask when seeking treatment for a loved one. Turning to a search engine to find a treatment facility may sound logical, but there are safer ways to find help.

As providers, we simply must be ethical. It’s time to come together and make this right. There are numerous ethics pledges and groups forming – and it seems to be the new buzzword – but ethics are not a la carte. It would behoove us to pool our resources and come up with one set of ethical rules by which we all practice. We have the power to do tremendous good and to save lives! We have to commit to putting our ethics, integrity and patients’ safety and wellbeing in front of our own financial gain. If the core of our collective business and professional practices lacks a well-defined code of ethics, then we are doing a profound disservice to ourselves, our community, and the lives we are fighting to save.

We need to work on the basics too:

• Confidentiality
• Dual relationships
• Not working outside one’s scope of practice
• Presenting one’s self as a Therapist, Counselor or Clinician when not licensed to be one

As professionals, let’s take a breath and actually thank the media for bringing the corruption to light. Yes, there are people out there doing the right thing, but there are also many who aren’t – and people are losing their lives because of it. Let’s use this opportunity to educate the public and end this epidemic!

Finally, as both providers and private citizens, we can band together and advocate for legal changes. Some legislators have already expressed interest in passing laws that would eradicate the abusive practices of these unethical providers. Grassroots movements can have tremendous impact!

So, what are the immediate takeaways? When looking for help, ask if providers have signed an ethics pledge. Ask if they receive referral fees or any type of kickback for involvement with a specific facility. If anyone offers to pay for transportation to a treatment facility, that’s a red flag. This could be part of the body brokering process mentioned above. Ask what kind of ethics oversight the treatment center, Interventionist or Consultant has.

In order to bring about change, providers and patients must RESIST:

• Be Respectful and treat persons suffering from this disease with dignity
• Be Ethical
• Break the stigma by continuing to Speak out about addiction and the havoc it is wreaking
• Be Informed of this terrorist and educate about the risks of an attack
Support each other through this war
• Offer Treatment and expand resources, instead of punishment

This is our call to action! There is an epidemic killing our loved ones every day. It’s time to pull together and fight this battle with everything we have because the solution won’t come from just one place. This is a
collaborative effort and we are in the best position we have ever been in to do this. This is the path toward protecting vulnerable families and addicts, while developing clear methods for ethical providers to carry the message.

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Heather Hayes & Associates is your trusted ally for navigating the complex world of treatment and recovery options for substance abuse, mental health issues, and process addictions.

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