Unethical Rehab Marketing Practices to Be Aware Of

An illustration of unethical rehab marketing, using lady justice, money and a pile of pills.

When anyone starts any business in any industry, the goal is to attract customers and generate revenue. But this does not mean that ethics or morals should ever be ignored for the sake of profits. This is especially true in the addiction rehab industry, where people’s lives often hang in the balance. Many people with addictions make decisions on their addiction rehab facility based on marketing. What does one facility offer that the other doesn’t? What’s the success rate? What types of professionals do they have on staff? For both legal and ethical reasons, you want to be sure that your rehab marketing accurately represents who you are and what you offer.

The Problem with Unethical Marketing Tactics

Deceptive or false advertising is illegal according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). But this does not stop companies from toeing and blatantly crossing the line in the name of higher profits. Based on the Lanham Act, also known as the Trademark Act of 1946, customers have the right to know exactly what they are buying, and companies are not allowed to deceive consumers.[1] These principles are also upheld through state laws.

Picture of a person hiding a white mask behind his back.

But it’s difficult to distinguish between simple embellishment, false advertising and unethical but legal advertising. For example, when Red Bull claims that it gives you wings, most people can see that this is an embellishment because it’s obvious that nothing can give a person wings. But what about when a sneaker business claims its footwear can make you jump higher, a supplement company that says it will help you drop 30 pounds in a month or a rehab center offers 100 percent painless detox? While these claims are likely untrue and could be classified as unethical, they are not necessarily illegal. As we are all well aware, advertisers make bold claims about their products and services all the time.

The Federal Trade Commission states that ads must be truthful, not misleading and, when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence.[2] The consumer protection organization pays especially close attention to claims about food, drugs, health, alcohol and tobacco. False advertising may result in heavy fines and/or compensation for victims.

Common Examples of Unethical Rehab Marketing

With over 23 million Americans suffering from alcohol or drug addictions and the growing societal shift towards rehabilitation over incarceration, it’s fair to say that the rehab industry is booming. In 2015, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimated that the addiction treatment industry generated approximately $35 billion per year.[3]

This increasing demand for addiction rehabilitation services has led many addiction clinics to use the following types of unethical rehab marketing:

Illustration of a person advertising their rehab center as doing everything and being the best.

1. Lead Selling: One common practice in the rehab industry is to use referral sites to send prospective clients to an addiction center that would best meet a person’s needs. However, when referral centers ask addiction rehabs to pay for referrals or to be compensated in anyway, this is an ethical violation.

2. Misrepresentation of Services: This may be the most common type of ethical violation in the addiction recovery industry. Treatment organizations are supposed to accurately portray the services they offer, the types of conditions they treat, their licenses and credentials and all aspects of their facilities. Whether a patient is reading an ad, a website or a blog, there should be no confusion about what a rehab center offers.

3. Misleading Information: Claiming that you have a 100 percent success rate or a painless detox, without any peer-reviewed evidence, are both misleading. Patients should be able to rely on the accuracy of the information addiction centers provide so that they can make the best decisions for themselves and their families.

4. Inappropriate Use of Clients for Promotional Purposes: Guidelines set forth in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 mandate that patients approve the use of their images and information for promotional purposes. Clients should also be made aware that this information will become public.

Illustration of a marketer falsely claiming their rehab has 100 percent success rate.

Simply put, unethical rehab marketing impairs a person’s ability to make a sound decision about his or her addiction treatment. As the owner of an addiction rehab, your first priority should be the health of your patient population. Misleading clients about your services or facilities, patient brokering and other forms of unethical marketing are not in line with this priority.

It helps to work with an advertising company that has a full grasp of the ethics of marketing within the addiction rehab industry. For more than a decade, MPA Rehab Marketing has set the standard for drug and alcohol addiction rehab advertising. We are committed to our ethics and remaining on the right side of the law. If you would like more information about ethical rehab marketing or to begin discussing some advertising campaign ideas, we would love to help. Contact us at 732-214-9600 to learn more.