ReGen welcomes The Age's focus on for profit treatment services (11/03/16)

Melbourne, VIC, 11th March, 2016 – UnitingCare ReGen welcomes yesterday’s Age editorial (Drug Rehabilitation: Regulate private treatment centres). The paper’s call for urgent government action to regulate for-profit services addresses longstanding concerns about service quality and unethical practice by some providers.

CEO Laurence Alvis said:

Currently, anyone can set up a service, make unverified claims about success rates and charge desperate families outrageous sums, regardless of their methods or level of expertise.

Combined with the well-recognised shortage of publicly-funded treatment services, a general lack of community understanding of the process of alcohol and other drug treatment and recovery and overblown media reporting (and some government advertising) have fuelled families’ fears about drug (particularly methamphetamine) use and driven demand for residential rehabilitation services. These conditions have provided lucrative business opportunities for some providers willing to exploit the vulnerability of families in search of a quick solution to what is typically a very complex problem.

In recent years, we have noticed a significant increase in the number of for-profit services and their investment in a range of marketing approaches. Many of these services have been created with the best of intentions and are genuine in their efforts to support people’s recovery from alcohol and other drug dependence with limited resources. However, we know of many examples where providers have engaged in a variety of unethical practices, including amplifying families’ fears about immediate risk to their loved ones, making unrealistic claims of effectiveness and encouraging families to put themselves into debt to pay for poor quality treatment. The worst examples include practice that risks significant harm to treatment participants.

Faced with waiting times of up to six months to gain access to publicly funded rehabilitation, families have increasingly been choosing for-profit services that offer immediate entry, both here and overseas. Typically, they are desperate for help and will make whatever sacrifices they see as being necessary to help their loved one. With the publicly-funded treatment system poorly understood and under-resourced, it is entirely understandable that vulnerable families have been making these choices.

But they deserve better.

Families deserve to be fully informed about their options and need to have confidence that the treatment being provided for their loved one is safe and likely to support sustainable outcomes. They also need to be provided with appropriate supports that help them cope with the impacts of problematic substance use on all family members.

While there are still many areas of the public system that can be improved, they continue to provide free (or low cost), effective services for individuals and families that support initial behaviour change and longer term recovery.

Publicly-funded services are required to meet service quality standards, deliver evidence-based programs and are accountable to Government for their actions. The time is long overdue for for-profit services to be held to account for their practice and their marketing claims.

While it is important to note that the Victorian Government has recently funded the creation of 500 additional rehabilitation places per year (including our South East Catalyst program in Narre Warren), the way forward is clear:

1. Regulate for-profit treatment services to ensure service quality, ensure the safety of people participating in those services and protect families from unethical practice;

2. Improve community awareness of the public system and how to access services; &

3. Work together with the Federal Government to increase the capacity of the public treatment system.

In the meantime, we would urge any family considering private treatment for their loved one to seek a second opinion, investigate the range of options within the public system and critically assess the credibility of any marketing claims of for-profit providers. We encourage all families to download our free resource that explains the treatment and recovery process and the importance of self-care for family members if they are to support their loved one.