Last week, four treatment centers in the New York area joined to sponsor what was probably the first marketing ethics conference in the field. Held June 17 in downtown Manhattan, the daylong conference opened with a presentation by keynote speaker Michael D. Reisman, assistant attorney general with the health care bureau of the New York State Office of the Attorney General. Reisman discussed parity enforcement against insurance companies. This was followed by Nora M., a critical care nurse who is herself in recovery, who talked about her struggles to find treatment for her son, addicted to heroin and repeatedly denied treatment by insurance companies. Next, Alison Knopf, editor of Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly, gave a presentation on ethical issues besetting treatment centers, including patient brokering, bait and switch, and excessive drug-test charges.

After lunch, James Fratantonio, Pharm.D., of Dominion Diagnostics, talked about ethical laboratory practice and gave technical descriptions of the different types of testing. He also discussed fraudulent behaviors that some treatment programs engage in, including cash for referrals, free point-of-care testing cups, offering kickbacks in the form of percentage payments or equity in the lab, fabricating diagnosis codes, and ordering unnecessary tests. These all result in overbilling and extra charges to the patient, and ultimately can put the lab and treatment center out of business.

Andy Johnson, fund administrator for the Teamster Center Services Fund, and other workers with the fund are not Teamsters; they are all employees of Montefiore Medical Center. He talked about the revenues treatment centers derive from urinalysis and why this is wrong, citing the “tragedy of the commons” in which individuals acting in their self-interest (profiteering from drug tests) hurt the whole group.

Ethics — compared to laws and regulations — are rarely the topic of conferences, but for the addiction treatment field, the past year has been a watershed one. The focus has been on deceptive marketing practices, following a lawsuit by Seabrook House against Recovery Brands and Elements (see ADAW, Nov. 2, 2014). The lawsuit was dismissed (see ADAW, March 16), Elements launched its own website (Addiction.com), and Recovery Brands presented a white paper at the annual National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers meeting on the importance of ethical digital advertising in the addiction treatment field (see ADAW, June 15).

Although the lawsuit was dismissed, the surrounding discussion brought about much soul-searching in the field, and the hard realities that have been affecting treatment programs losing patients to unethical marketing practices led to the need for the June 17 meeting, which also focused on drug testing and was titled “Practical Ethics: Challenges for the Addiction Treatment Field.” A first-come, first-served conference — the 150-attendee limit filled up within 24 hours of the email going out last spring — the conference was made possible by space donated by District Council 37, the health care workers’ union. The sponsors of the conference were Nancy Beckett-Lawless and Jo Venturelli of Seafield, Maria Gross of Inter-Care, Claudia Ragni of Kenneth Peters Center, and Liz Walker with Marworth. Attendees came from out of state as well as in state.