Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Unethical and Illegal Practices in Addiction Treatment

Investigative reporting sheds light on a dark reality.

Sadly, politics are not the only arena for scandals, corruption and greed. The addiction treatment field is an arena that we would hope to associate with a caring culture. It has been common knowledge for many who work in the addiction treatment field that unethical and illegal practices have been increasing in frequency and include insurance fraud and insurance over-billing to profit from excessive urine screening, predatory billing practices, subscribing patients to an insurance policy by giving them a fake address and paying their premium, and patient brokering. Patient brokering involves individuals who are hired by a treatment facility to “recruit” clients who are desperate for treatment from and getting paid “per head” by the treatment center or sober living. Patient brokering and insurance manipulation have been viewed as unethical practices, but they are actually illegal.

The investigative journalism headed by the Palm Beach Post that began in August 2015 is encouraging and long overdue. These practices have become more prevalent throughout the country (particularly in Florida and California) and there has not been the oversight or accountability needed to protect clients. The Palm Beach Post article “Boynton Beach Addiction Treatment Center’s CEO Operator Arrested” is evidence that these practices are illegal and unethical. James Kiger was arrested for multiple counts of patient brokering which is a third degree felony. What is most disturbing to me is that given the current opiate epidemic and desperation that so many addicts and families face, that they are being taken advantage of in their time of need. Most addiction treatment professionals have either personal experience with or a family member with an addiction. They genuinely want to use their experience to help others and have positive intentions. However, there are outliers, who enter into the addiction treatment field purely to profit from the “Gold Rush” (referring to the enormous profit potential from exploiting urine screening) and to take advantage of the desperation of addicts and their families. It is time that we shed light on these scams and support clients in getting the quality ethical treatment that they deserve.

James Kiger is not the only addiction treatment mogul to be recently arrested. Chris Bathum owner of the California and Colorado based Community Recovery L.A. was arrested for drug use, insurance fraud and sexual battery (charges that he denies) and the California Department of Health filed a complaint that he was operating an “unlicensed alcohol or drug-abuse recovery or treatment facilities in Los Angeles County”.

There are many other addiction treatment programs that are using illegal and unethical practices on a more subtle level- which are more challenges to uncover. An example is the “heads and beds” practice, where clients are prematurely or rapidly moved through the various phases of the treatment program based on census versus clinical readiness.

My hope is that a better system of oversight and regulations for sober living programs is implemented nationally. Additionally, that more investigations are launched on treatment programs that are involved in unethical and illegal practices- to give the message that these practices are unacceptable and that they will not be tolerated.

In the meantime, we are blessed to have so many quality addiction treatment programs throughout the country. I have had the pleasure of meeting so many experienced and caring treatment professionals, and have faith that the good will outweigh the corrupt.

For more information and resources about High-Functioning Alcoholics, please visit