Saving lives or selling souls? We expose the dark side of addiction in our hidden camera investigation.
"At first, I was getting 500 per client to prove myself. These undercovers go in, bring dope into rehabs, right, to give people."
That's a sobering admission we captured on undercover video from someone who works in the addiction treatment industry who appears to go to any lengths to find addicts to cash-in on their insurance.
This treatment worker said, "There's nothing wrong with it."
Alcohol, pain pills, meth and heroin are some of the most deadly and addicting drugs that have become a growing problem in Arizona.
People's lives are spiraling out of control. Millions of addicts die from overdoses. Millions more get a life-line by checking into rehab.
The addiction treatment industry is a $35 billion business.
"What you see is not always what you get," interventionist Carey Davidson said.
What we uncovered was less about treatment. Instead, profit seemed to be the driving force in getting addicts into detox.
Davidson says money is a driving force in the treatment world.
"It's just heartbreaking. It's almost like, 'Let's make money and go to treatment,'" said Davidson.
Industry insiders call it the dark side of recovery: paying for addicts, and it has some of the world's most renowned addiction experts like Davidson sounding the alarm.
"You're going to talk to people and hear that it's patient care. However, I also think the reality is that it's financially driven the vast majority of the time," Davidson said.
It's called patient brokering, where addicts are sold to rehab centers. The person cutting the deal is called a body broker. Interventionist Heather Hayes says it's equivalent to human trafficking.
"Families who may only have one shot may lose a child because they don't end up in the right type of treatment," Hayes said.
Our hidden cameras reveal addicts are worth cash and these deals are made within hours.
Once an addict enters detox, some treatment centers may offer kickbacks to the body broker. It's a payout anywhere from $100 to thousands of dollars per addict.
"At first, I was getting 500 per client. Now I believe its $5,000. After taxes, it's about $3,500 bucks," the body broker we caught on camera said.
We went undercover and caught a body broker cruising for addicts. He admits that he's only 11 months sober, and says he saw an opportunity to make money in 12 step meetings. "I'm using the sobriety experience as the vehicle to get people," he said.
He tried to broker a deal at an undercover meeting. He was looking to sell off one of his addicts to another treatment center. The only condition: he expected a cash kickback.
Hayes tells us she's been offered thousands of dollars in kickbacks for just one of their patients.
"Let me first say we do not participate in these, but we have seen and been exposed to contracts that offer up $8,000 per client upon admission. If they stay longer, a percentage of the insurance that they're paid," Hayes said.
Body brokers use so-called marketing contracts, which place a price tag on every addict.
These contracts are illegal in some states, but here in Arizona, paying cash referral fees is totally legal.
Hayes described the dangers of patient brokering.
"If a patient had a heart problem and a physician got money every time that patient was sent to the hospital, you wouldn't know if the client really needed to go to the hospital, or did the physician really need to make their money?" Hayes explained.
An intake worker at a Valley treatment center, who was also newly sober, had access to the names and phone numbers of addicts.
He admits he got paid off for selling their information to other treatment centers. He received up to $500 for every patient name he provided.
"All I tried to do was help people get into treatment and get paid for it. I didn't really do much. I just gave phone numbers to people. I was so low, bottom of the totem pole. It was just, that was that, and then I got paid," he said.
The intake worker was fired from the treatment facility after it became aware that he sold patient information.
"He doesn't even know if he hurt anybody or not. People came to him to try to get help and were pushed in a direction that may or may not have been appropriate," said Hayes.
The state of Florida recently made body brokering and cash kickbacks illegal. In fact, nearly a dozen people were just busted for selling addicts to treatment centers, and in some cases, arrested for giving addicts drugs, getting them high and checking them into rehab for cash.
It's just like the body broker we caught on undercover camera admitted.
"These undercovers go in, bring dope into rehabs to give people and say. 'I'll give you $500, and then you go to this place,'" he said.
Multiple addiction industry insiders tell us that Arizona is being flooded with body brokers because it's unregulated. However, that could soon change. After watching our report, state Rep. Noel Campbell, R-District 1, is entering HB 2333 into the state health committee for debate. The bill will make it illegal for anyone to receive or pay a cash kickback in the drug addiction treatment industry.
Hayes says not all drug treatment facilities are bad.
"I think there's some excellent facilities out there that are 100 percent about patient care," Hayes said.
She follows that up with a message to body brokers who are selling addicts in Arizona, to cash-in on the most vulnerable.
"I would say stop it. You have no idea how much you're hurting other people. You may help 99, but if you hurt that 1 out of 100, it's not worth it," Hayes said.
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