The internet can be a dangerous place for people seeking help for drug and alcohol addiction. And that's bad news for many Americans, as a Google study found 61% of people who enter rehab used the internet to find treatment. Search a phrase like "rehabs near me" on Google and you'll find a "complex, opaque web of treatment centers and marketing operations that use the internet and high-pressure telemarketing techniques to profit off" people in need of help, the Verge reports in a sobering look at a practice that "in extreme cases ... can look a lot like human trafficking." It all starts with Google ads bearing mysterious, nearly untraceable 800 numbers.
One rehab company spends more than $1 million a month on Google ads for its affiliated websites. Those 800 numbers lead to call centers that pretend to be unbiased but are anything but. The workers who answer the phone are salespeople looking for addicts with good insurance or deep pockets, and they're most interested in sending callers to treatment centers that will make them money. Take 39-year-old math teacher Leasha Ali, who called one of those 800 numbers looking for help with alcoholism. She was promised a highly personal rehab experience complete with palm trees. What she got was a converted motel, large group sessions, and a stretched-thin staff that couldn't deal with her medical issues. Read the full piece here for what one state is doing to fight deceptive treatment practices and the uphill battle it faces. (Read more Longform stories.)