Drug addiction is rampant in the United States, and the business of rehab centers to treat the problem is booming. And when drug addicts and their families look for help, they often search on Google.
But prosecutors and mental health advocates have warned that in many cases, an online search will lead addicts to click on ads for rehab centers that are ill-equipped to help them or even endangering their lives.
Google acknowledged the problem this week and started restricting ads that come up when someone searches for addiction treatment on its site. “We found a number of misleading experiences among rehabilitation treatment centers that led to our decision,” Google spokeswoman Elisa Greene said in a statement on Thursday.
The restrictions will limit a common marketing tool used by the $35 billion addiction treatment business, affecting thousands of operators.
Treatment centers often rely on Google searches to attract patients from across the country. Their marketing strategy regularly includes buying an ad that will show up if someone searches for phrases like “drug treatment” or “alcohol rehab center.”
Dr. Cali Estes, The Addictions Coach and Founder of The Addictions Academy responded to the change, “This is powerful, Google is helping to clean up the addiction industry. The days of paid AdWords and Body Brokering are coming to an end, and fast.”
Google’s restrictions were applauded by health care officials, who have been calling for more ethical and medically based treatment.
“People don’t always know what good treatment is,” said Dr. Vivek Murthy, who was surgeon general in the Obama Administration and published a report last year that warned of the nation’s addiction crisis. “I am glad Google took steps to prevent the spread of these false ads.”
But what about the legitimate centers that are caught in the crosshairs? Ad-driven searches, according to advocates and law enforcement officials, have not always led addicts and their families to the best care. In some cases, they have found that patients are being deceived, which Google acknowledged.
Explaining the need for more focus on referrals instead of purchased ads, Estes said, “This is an opportunity for treatment centers to train their staff on ethical patient referral and intake systems. This can help assure the addict and their families that they are receiving qualified help.”
Families and addicts seeking help are not always aware they are clicking on an ad when searching for assistance through the Google site.
Despite the rapid growth in the number of addiction cases, the treatment industry is a messy blend of upstart businesses and a few well-known providers.
What constitutes treatment is also all over the map, and unlike other serious illnesses where a physician would refer the patient for treatment, addicts and their families are left to look for help on the internet.
This has allowed Google to become one of the largest referral sources for treating a disease that affects millions. And the businesses, either legitimate or not, willing to the pay the most for ads are the ones most likely to appear on a search.
“Valid, authentic treatment centers and other reputable addiction recovery professionals need to find ways to help each other with quality, genuine referral systems,” says Dr. Estes.
“We’ve been training legit centers with our Call Center and Admissions course for some time, which focuses highly on the use of referral plans. It’s the best way for everyone to get the quality care they need.”
Learn more about alternative and effective referral strategies by visiting The Addictions Academy at https://theaddictionsacademy.com or calling them at (800) 706-0318.