Until a few years ago, Greg Horvath was making around $30,000 a month as an interventionist, confronting people with drug and alcohol problems and persuading them to go to high-priced rehabs. But as he was becoming wealthier, he says, the people he was purportedly helping rarely kicked their habits, despite repeated stays at some of the best-known facilities in the U.S.
Horvath, who quit drinking in 1990 with the help of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, began to question the value of his work—and of the rehabs themselves. Four of his former clients overdosed and died after multiple trips to treatment centers, he says. The centers “paint this picture that they’re going to fix everything. These families in crisis are so vulnerable, and they want to believe what they hear.”
But in truth, Horvath says, the biggest motive of rehab facilities, some of which charged upwards of $50,000 a month, was simpler still: profit. One rehab he worked with, he said, had an employee whose job was to guide families through the process of refinancing their home to pay the tens of thousands of dollars charged for treatment.
Meanwhile, he told The Daily Beast, the families he was working with— hardworking parents fearful for their children’s lives—were “getting swept away.”
In 2011, Horvath teamed with a documentary filmmaker, Adam Finberg, to investigate the $35 billion treatment industry. The result of their partnership, “The Business of Recovery,” which premiered on Sunday at the Newport Beach Film Festival, is an extraordinary look into the secretive and unregulated world of alcohol and drug rehab. Because of Horvath’s credibility with industry leaders, the team gained unprecedented access to centers and their leadership, including Betty Ford, Hazelden, and tony facilities overlooking the Pacific in Malibu.
It’s a devastating portrait, all the more powerful because some of the most damning statements come from the rehab executives who seemed to believe they were talking to a gullible colleague.
The documentary argues that the efficacy of residential rehab is abysmal—and it’s also a black box. The filmmakers interview Lance Dodes, a professor of psychiatry emeritus at Harvard and author of the 2014 book The Sober Truth, who notes that the vast majority of drug and alcohol treatments rely on the 12-step approach created by Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1930’s.
Repeated studies of the 80-year-old faith-and-abstinence program by Dodes and others have found its efficacy to be in the single digits. Ruben Baler, a health scientist at the National Institute of Drug Abuse in Bethesda, told the filmmakers: “If you’re looking for … randomized trials and scientifically rigorous studies of how they work and for how many people they work —you will not find those studies. You will find anecdotal evidence—for people that it did work [for]—but unfortunately we don’t have the scientific basis to say how many of all those people that tried a 12-Step program—how many of those did not succeed.”
Yet the rehab executives interviewed in the movie claim success rates of 80 percent or more. Those numbers are typically compiled in a less-than-scientific way: Former clients are called by telephone and asked if they have remained sober.
One interviewee scoffed when recollecting the phone call he got from his rehab. “I told them I was sober, sure,” he said. “But I was drinking.”
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