Longtime readers of World of Psychology know I don’t have a lot of patience for the ridiculous shady marketing practices of the drug rehab industry, otherwise known as inpatient alcohol treatment centers. While there are many ethical, well-meaning providers in this space, there are dozens of companies who are still scraping bottom.
Today I take a look at where American Addiction Centers is and where it’s going, and the new obfuscated marketing efforts of Freedom Healthcare of America.
The inpatient drug rehab industry created its own problem. Led by the biggest names in the industry, such as American Addiction Centers, some of the marketing practices these companies engaged in online were always questionable. Just a year after I wrote this expose’ of some of the shady practices of Recovery Brands, as well as those of Dan Callahan (not related to one another), American Addiction Centers actually purchased Recovery Brands in 2015.
That also happens to be the year it reached its peak market cap of $1 billion. And the year I wrote about the curious collection of online websites run by American Addiction Centers that failed — at the time — to have any branding or notice of ownership. What kind of ethical company hides their website ownership? Eventually the company got around to branding all of their sites — but with no acknowledgement of running them for years unbranded, directing unsuspecting visitors apparently to the company’s own drug rehab centers.
American Addiction Centers’ (AAC) market cap today is just $40 million (according to Behavioral Healthcare Executive), which, in my opinion, is not in small part due to some of these marketing practices.
Now AAC has a whole new strategy which will definitely turn them around and not at all, in my opinion, exploit vulnerable people looking for help.
Offering branded nutraceuticals through its website.
Despite the lack of little scientific evidence of the value of such supplements (and failing to carry any FDA approval for treatment of a specific condition), AAC is going to market them nonetheless. Even money bet on whether CBD oil will be among their offerings.
Repackaging its website content into a mobile app subscription service.
Yes, because people are just clamoring to subscribe to an addiction treatment center’s not-at-all biased information about addiction information! How would a user know that it wasn’t designed as yet another funnel into one of AAC’s facilities?
Developing a broader advertising base on its website.
Who would want to advertise on a drug rehab center’s website, even one that ostensibly has more general mental health information? Maybe AAC should just run Google Adsense and call it a day.
American Addiction Centers Still Not Alone
If you thought the seedy underbelly of addiction treatment centers marketing has gone away, it hasn’t. At least once a month, I still get outreach emails from marketing SEO specialists working for different companies. Freedom Healthcare of America recently sent a nonprofit I volunteer with the following email:
Could you make a small update for me?
I’m working on a national safety project to help raise awareness on The Effect Of Drug Abuse On Pregnancy.
The Effect Of Drug Abuse On Pregnancy
Would you mind sharing it perhaps on your page here?: [redacted]
Doctors Keenan and Cohen felt there wasn’t a strong guide out there and I’m tasked with promoting it so ….
Patient Advocacy Group
When you visit the link provided, you find a completely unbranded page that claims “Drug Rehab” is a “patient advocacy group.” That’s it. No links to anything on the website to the site’s homepage, drugrehab.org. They also have other stand-alone articles, like https://www.drugrehab.org/adhd-addiction-connection/ which goes to an article entitled, “ADHD and addiction: What’s the connection?” Or this one, from a slightly different site, https://www.inpatientdrugrehab.org/depression/ entitled “Depression and addiction rehab.”
I couldn’t find any online profile of Walter Keenan, Ph.D. (the easier of the two names to search for as there are a lot of David Cohens) either at LinkedIn or ResearchGate — unusual for someone who is writing health articles for the public. The only place this name linked to drug abuse topics appears are on these articles about drug abuse on the suspect websites.
Of course, if you visit the homepage of either of these sites, you find out there’s no actual “patient advocacy group.” These are just marketing landing pages of sites run by Freedom Healthcare of America LLC which does business as Addiction Campuses of America. According to Bloomberg, this company is a drug and alcohol addiction treatment provider.
This is yet another example of how the self-policing efforts of the industry have failed. Drug and alcohol inpatient treatment providers have little incentive to clean up their online marketing acts — and many have yet to do so, as this example illustrates.
It’s actually a good thing for consumers if some of these types of companies fail. If their business is struggling, that suggests a fundamental issue with their core business proposition, since little has changed in the research literature about effective treatment strategies for the treatment of substance abuse and alcoholism. In short, there was no reason for so many of these companies in the first place. And the increased competition among them for the same amount of treatment dollars resulted in many of these ethically-questionable online marketing practices.
The sooner the government can regulate drug and alcohol inpatient treatment centers’ advertising efforts online, the better. Based on web traffic analytics, it’s possible that hundreds of thousands of people have been misled, perhaps even fraudulently, by companies’ efforts in this space. It’s high time this behavior stopped.