Lawmakers aim to clean up drug and alcohol rehab industry

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A Solutions Recovery facility in Las Vegas, June 2018 (Nevada Current file photo).

It’s been five months since Kim Sanders’ son killed himself at Solutions Recovery’s detoxification facility in Las Vegas, but Sanders has yet to hear from the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health, which regulates health facilities such as the one where her son, Andrew “Drew” Sanders, took his life.

“We were paying thousands of dollars and under the impression our son was under 24 hour, seven-day-a-week supervision, but that wasn’t the case,” Sanders, who lives in Michigan, told the Current. “Here in the Midwest, there’s not a lot of rehabs.  When we Googled it (Solutions Recovery), unfortunately, it didn’t say anything about prior deaths.”

A measure before Nevada lawmakers would give Sanders and countless others searching for addiction treatment access to information from a state-maintained web page. The legislation would also require the Division of Public and Behavioral Health to track deaths at non-medical “health” facilities such as sober and mental health homes.  Health facilities would be required to report unexpected deaths or “sentinel events,” just as medical facilities are required now.

Beginning a year ago, the Current has chronicled a series of deaths and questionable business practices at a leading drug and alcohol rehab company in Las Vegas.

Since then, Solutions Recovery has seen its founder depart for an unsuccessful bid for office,  and it’s closed some local facilities and rebranded others. Its parent company, American Addiction Centers, has caught the attention of Congress, personal injury attorneys, investors filing a class-action suit, and national media.  

The industry has also piqued the interest of Nevada lawmakers, who are on the verge of passing a measure increasing oversight of rehab facilities and outlawing the bad practices that have rendered addicted clients, in some cases, little more than human ATMs, replenished by well-intended but exploited insurance benefits that put mental health and addiction coverage on par with physical ailments.

Ask any recovering addict and they’ll tell you relapses are part of the process of getting clean.  But in the addiction treatment business, relapses aren’t setbacks. They are opportunities.

Business is so good that hedge funds are seeking a piece of the action.

From seemingly independent (but in reality, company-run)  “referral websites” offering first-class amenities such as equine therapy, to call centers manned by commission-paid salespeople masquerading as “intake personnel,” the industry is fraught with peril for those navigating the path to sobriety.

A lack of regulation nationwide makes sifting the good providers from the bad an almost impossible prospect.

The bill before Nevada lawmakers seeks to inform prospective clients by enhancing state regulation of the industry, which currently does not even monitor deaths that occur in rehabs.

Senate Bill 457, initially a measure requiring the state to more closely monitor rehabs and require deaths to be reported to the state as sentinel events, has been amended to address conflicts of interest and other troublesome industry practices.

“It’s imperative that regulations exist requiring mandatory reporting of sentinel events, to ensure deaths are properly and timely investigated,” attorney Jeremiah Lowe of San Diego told the Current.  Lowe represents the families of Cody Arbuckle and April Leeming, who both died while in the care of American Addiction Centers facilities in Las Vegas.

Clients frequently complain that the reality of sober houses rarely lives up to the hype.

“I did the research and I was attracted to Solutions,” says Kathy Deem, whose son Cody Arbuckle died at Solutions Recovery in 2017 after 19 days in treatment. Arbuckle would have turned 25 on May 27.

“I showed it (Solutions) to Cody and his older brother. I said ‘Look how nice this looks.’  A saleswoman called me repeatedly. I finally said ‘OK,’” Deem said.

A 2015 inspection report of the sober house where Arbuckle would be found dead two years later noted multiple holes in ceilings, dirty conditions and damage to walls and doors:

“The dining room carpet had dirt/debris and large stains. – The backyard had an accumulation of mattresses, full trash bags, ciggarette (sp) butts on the ground on the south side of the yard near the trash cans. … Based on observation and interview, the facility failed to ensure the kitchen was maintained.The first aid kit must include, without limitation: (e) A shield or mask to be used by a person who is administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation. On 7/9/15 in the afternoon, the House Manager was not able to locate a shield/mask. This was a repeat deficiency from the initial state licensure survey dated 1/23/14.”

Solutions Recovery founder, Dave Marlon, attributed the state of disrepair described by inspectors to ongoing renovations.

The legislation makes it a misdemeanor for a treatment provider to make false or misleading statements or provide false information via marketing about the products, goods, services or geographical locations of the provider.

It would also make it a misdemeanor to receive or attempt to solicit or receive a kickback or engage in a split-fee arrangement in return for recruiting clients into addiction treatment.

A person who provides marketing services to rehabs and agrees to generate referrals or leads for placing patients must provide a disclosure informing the prospective patient that the service is paid by the provider.  The marketing service must also inform prospective clients how to access a list of unaffiliated providers via the Internet.

The bill also requires the state to maintain a website with information on the licensing status of rehab facilities.

The Recovery Foundation, an association representing drug and alcohol rehabs, did not respond to requests for comment on the legislation.

The measure is now in the Senate awaiting a vote on the amendments, which have already passed the Assembly.

As for Sanders, absent an investigation by the state and at the mercy of a company wary of legal action, it took months for her to learn that her son left a suicide note.

“They couldn’t even find Andrew in their database,” Sanders says of Solutions Recovery. “This reminds me of a Dateline special where your kid goes away for Spring break, never comes back, and no one saw a thing.”

Dana Gentry
Reporter | Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana is the mother of four adult children, three cats, three dogs and a cockatoo.

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