John Oliver Speaks Truth

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Last week, comedian John Oliver delivered a scathing indictment of the rehab industry on his program Last Week Tonight. His 20-minute rant was rife with the truth-telling by which paradigms are shifted.

If ever there was need for an industry to be called out, it’s the rehab industry. Recent years have seen insurance fraud and poor — even dangerous — standards of care. While Oliver didn’t reveal anything we didn’t know, he succinctly packaged it into an easy-to-understand letter to the American public. Why does it matter so much? Because we’re in the middle of the worst lethality caused by drug use ever seen — possibly the worst in history — and it’s not getting better. By any metric, rehab is an abysmal failure.

At one point, Oliver mentioned The Fix, saying that it’s little more than a blog for marketing pieces thinly veiled as editorial content. Hearing that was bittersweet for me. As the founder of The Fix, my original intention was for it to be exactly the opposite of what it has become. We set out to scrutinize the rehab industry, provide information, and break news while holding to journalistic standards. After I was ousted, The Fix became nothing more than a shell-game marketing tool, a self-aggrandizing vehicle for rehabs to tout their virtue in an insular culture without oversight. The Fix is now a perpetrator of the crimes it set out to correct.

With overdoses claiming more lives than car accidents, and alcohol producing a steady stream of body bags, how can we claim that rehab isn’t in need of a complete overhaul? The very way we think about substance misuse must be retooled to improve outcomes.

Remedy Recovery is a medically assisted treatment (MAT) program that offers a medical protocol to address substance misuse and other mental health issues. The modality is not new; in fact, it’s widely used in other parts of the world. France and Portugal both report substantiated claims of better outcomes treating their impaired population like patients. Both countries have nearly eliminated overdose deaths. They report more people in treatment, less crime, and dramatically reduced transmission of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C.

The goal of Remedy Recovery isn’t to “win” or prove rehab wrong. It’s to expand the range of treatment options, and to allow physicians to treat patients with the support of mental and emotional health clinicians who can integrate care and improve outcomes. There are people who find success in the 30-day acute care model of treatment — there just aren’t very many of them relative to the number of people in need and the numbers of people who are engaged in treatment. We can do better than coercion into a church basement, bad coffee, and a body count.