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Imagine you are an opioid addict leaving a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, and a man standing outside the building strikes up a conversation.

He understands what you’re going through in the difficult and often discouraging fight to end your dependence on drugs. Even better, he wants to help — and he knows just the place for in-patient treatment.

You might start to get skeptical when he tells you the treatment center is in Florida or California and tries to sell you on the sunny weather there. But not everybody smells a rat.

The man might be a so-called “patient broker,” a person who works on behalf of unethical drug treatment facilities to recruit patients who can pay.

At best, the brokers funnel patients to effective treatment facilities but without regard for the best interests of the patient. At worst, they can direct people to substandard programs or even give people cash or drugs in exchange for agreeing to become a patient at a program.

The economics of American health care have created the unsavory profession. A patient with the right insurance provider can create a windfall for unethical treatment providers, so they don’t mind paying $500-$5,000 to a broker who refers the patient, explained an expert on the practice in an article for Behavioral Health Executive magazine.

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“The sad truth is that once these kids (are) entwined in this scheme, they quickly become a highly sought-after commodity,” the parent of an addict wrote for the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

In October 2018, President Donald Trump signed the Eliminating Kickbacks in Recovery Act to ban patient brokering at the federal level and punish violators with up to 10 years in prison.

A recently introduced Pennsylvania bill would also make the practice illegal at the state level. Senate Bill 713 would make it a felony to pay or receive a “commission, benefit, bonus, rebate, kickback or bribe” for referral of a patient to a health care or drug treatment facility.

“Entering treatment can be a pivotal step in one’s recovery journey, and we must be sure that they are able to do so in a safe and supportive environment,” wrote primary sponsor Steven Santarsiero, D-Doylestown, in a co-sponsorship memo.

Many treatment centers are legitimate and provide helpful services to people suffering from addiction. However, experts recommend caution when interacting with people who hang around support group meetings or treatment centers looking for patients. Legitimate treatment programs will also conduct an initial screening and assessment to ensure the treatment is appropriate for the patient.

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Daniel Walmer covers public safety for The Sentinel. You can reach him by email at dwalmer@cumberlink.com or by phone at 717-218-0021.

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