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The Internet has changed the way we communicate in ways previously only imagined. In addition to its instantaneous electronic wizardry, the fact that the internet is largely unregulated is an added attraction, especially to scoundrels who seek to exploit the net for their own nefarious ends. This results in all sorts of private and public disasters – revenge porn, thought control, fake news, financial scams, bitcoins and the catastrophic fluke of Donald Trump’s election.

The addiction treatment industry is equally a victim of the unfettered freedom of the internet. Any wannabee treatment facility operator can claim any achievement or expertise to anyone via their website and it is difficult to establish the truth. There are websites proclaiming to be the best treatment facility in Africa on day one of their opening. No track record, no established reputation and no evidence whatsoever to support the claim. Just a few photoshopped images of their best bedroom and the view. These wily operators are well aware that with addictive disorders, the target audience is usually a desperate family held hostage by an out of control addict. Consequently, the family will clutch at any hope of resolution, especially if it sold to them by a shrewd snake oil salesman at the other end of a telephone “help” line. It often amounts to wholesale exploitation of human misery.

However, it could be argued that these risks pertain to any financial transaction. The “caveat emptor” principle applies – let the buyer be aware. So Tharagay has devised a list of questions to help you when investigating a treatment option via the internet. [Download from the Tharagay website] Buying treatment via the internet is different from purchasing a washing machine, where the specs are clear. Remember, the addiction treatment industry has become hugely competitive and very predatory. With minimal monitoring by the regulatory authority, treatment operators are often more interested in their own welfare than your wellbeing.

The internet has allowed the growth of an even more scandalous activity – web based companies that sell treatment packages on behalf of treatment centres in return for a commission. One could argue that agents selling products of behalf of suppliers exists in many industries – travel, accommodation, real estate, entertainment so why not in the addiction treatment industry? In the healthcare industry, this practice is called touting and in other less savoury industries, they are known as pimps. The Health Professions Council strictly outlaws touting and for good reason, namely the belief is that a medical service should stand or fall based on its ability and skills and not driven by a third parties paid to bolster its reputation through deceptive advertising or receiving a commission for every unsuspecting client delivered to their door. Touting creates a perverse incentive in the hands of the agent whose interest is largely driven by the facility that will pay them the biggest bounty for each admission.

Healthcare professionals run the risk of severe censure if they take kickbacks for referrals to specialists because they are bound to the ethical codes of conduct of their respective statuary bodies. Web based referral agencies have the run of the mill and are accountable to no one except Google whose massive bill they pay each month in return for the benefit of being top of the Google ratings.

So, eyes wide open when purchasing addiction treatment via the internet.

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