Addicts for Sale: What Families Need to Know about Patient Brokers

Patient brokers are an emerging plague on the field of addiction recovery. They have several different names: patient brokers, treatment brokers, and perhaps the most chilling, body brokers. These brokers make fees by referring to treatment centers who pay them for the referrals.

Often, the families are also charged for the service. In other cases, where families aren’t involved, brokers pull people off the streets, offering to help them get help. They make between $100 and $5,00 per transaction, or more accurately, per human sold.  

While that process may in and of itself seem harmless- a middle man who makes a living by helping struggling individuals get into treatment. But the field of addiction recovery, a rapidly growing $35 billion industry, is particularly vulnerable to predatory capitalization.

By the time treatment is being sought, the patient is sick, physically, mentally, emotionally. Families are desperate, willing to do whatever they can to help their struggling loved one. This is an especially vulnerable point for everyone involved. Treatment brokers often target young drug users, those who are inexperienced with the process of entering rehab. 

So what do addicted individuals and their families need to be aware of?

  • Unsolicited contact from strangers offering the opportunity to go to treatment
  • Offers to go to treatment out of state, particularly without paying airfare. 
  • Directives on how to behave or to maintain contact with the individual while in treatment
  • Recommendations for treatment centers that don’t quite fit needs (ex. a program that focuses on certain types of drug use or trauma that don’t apply)
  • “Scholarships” offered for treatment 

While each of these events may not be hard evidence of treatment brokering, they are definitely warning signs. Treatment centers can help our industry to overcome this problem by disseminating this information.