John Oliver explains why the American rehab industry is such a disaster

The HBO comedian makes a compelling argument for more oversight.
The HBO comedian makes a compelling argument for more oversight.
Image: HBO/YouTube screenshot
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As the United States is in the throes of an opioid epidemic, its drug and alcohol rehab industry remains an unregulated mess.

On his HBO show Last Week Tonight, comedian John Oliver exposed the country’s massive failures in treating its addicted population. Most Americans are likely unaware of the issue, unless they’ve had to go or see a friend or family member go to rehab. Despite record numbers of overdose deaths (they now outnumber car accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in the US), the American rehab industry is essentially one giant snake oil scheme, Oliver explained.

“There can be more money in a patient relapsing than in them recovering,” he said. “At its worst, this system encourages a cycle of admission, relapse, readmission, and relapse again.”

Oliver pointed out how many American rehab centers run extremely misleading advertisements, make false promises, and have no actual data to back up their claims that patients are cured of addiction. Most rehab statistics are compiled by the rehab centers themselves by calling former clients and simply asking how they’re doing.

The barrier to starting a rehab center, Oliver explained, is also “dangerously low.” In Idaho, one doesn’t need any kind of license to open a center unless it will treat adolescents. In Florida, which has one of the highest rates of overdose deaths in the US, there’s absolutely nothing in state law to prevent someone from starting an outpatient group home.

“O.J. Simpson could open one right now, which would obviously be called ‘The Juice Cleanse,’ and there would be nothing standing in his way,” Oliver quipped.

The comedian also discussed several dubious methods of therapy employed by some American rehab centers, including “equine therapy,” which has never been medically proven as effective.

Oliver added that obtaining vital information about rehab centers, such as complaints against them or state investigations into them, before choosing which facility to send a loved one to, can be wildly difficult. To get that information about Cliffside Malibu, one of the questionable centers Oliver highlights on the show, one would have to file a public records request with the California department of health services and wait months to receive what could be a lengthy document.

“It’s akin to a pregnancy test that takes eight and a half months to get the results,” Oliver said.