OLYMPIA — In light of his office’s investigation into an addiction treatment marketing company, Attorney General Bob Ferguson is urging Washingtonians to be aware of marketing websites that pose as neutral sources of information about addiction treatment facilities.
This week, Ferguson resolved a case against Recovery Worldwide, a private marketing company that operates several websites containing paid advertising for substance abuse treatment facilities. The company branded its websites as impartial resources to find “the right treatment center for you,” without clearly disclosing that much of their content was paid advertising.
In fact, when people called Recovery Worldwide for help finding treatment, they were routed to directly to sales representatives for substance abuse treatment facilities that paid Recovery Worldwide to forward calls to them, without any consideration for the consumer’s preferred location or treatment needs.
Ferguson’s complaint, filed in King County Superior Court, asserts Recovery Worldwide’s conduct violates the Washington Consumer Protection Act.
As a result of the Attorney General’s investigation, Recovery Worldwide is legally required to clearly disclose which of its online content is paid advertising, in addition to other changes.
Free, comprehensive information regarding addiction treatment in your area is available through the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) at findtreatment.gov. For help finding treatment, call the SAMSHA hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357).
“Anyone seeking addiction treatment deserves honest communication about their options,” Ferguson said. “Marketing sites may not have all the information people need to make a fully informed decision. Unbiased, comprehensive resources are available for those who need help.”
Details of the case
Even though much of its content was paid advertising, the company gave the impression that its websites are a source of unbiased advice for those seeking addiction treatment. The websites included statements like, “contact us now to find the right rehab facility that fits your needs,” and “get help immediately enrolling into the right treatment center for you.” One website describes itself as “an extensive resource and community for information and support for people who have been affected by the prevalence of opioids.”
However, these websites are not comprehensive, nor is their paid marketing a neutral source of information. For example, the Attorney General’s Office has never found more than a few Washington treatment centers listed on these websites’ directories, when a search on findtreatment.gov shows dozens of opioid addiction treatment services in Seattle alone.
The websites also prominently display toll-free numbers for people to speak to a “treatment professional,” a “treatment specialist,” or an “expert” to learn about substance abuse treatment options.
In reality, these calls are not routed to licensed addiction treatment providers. They are instead routed directly to sales representatives for one of several substance abuse treatment facilities that have paid Recovery Worldwide to have those toll-free calls forwarded to them. These toll-free hotlines direct calls based solely on the amount of calls the treatment facility has paid to receive — without any consideration for the individual’s preferred location or treatment needs.
For example, a Washingtonian may call the toll-free line, believing they will be connected to a “treatment specialist” who will explain their options to them — only to be connected with a salesperson at a treatment facility several states away. Meanwhile, a similar, better-suited facility may only be a short drive away.
More than 1,900 Washingtonians have called one of Recovery Worldwide’s hotlines since 2018.
Under the consent decree, Recovery Worldwide is legally required to clearly disclose which of its online content is paid advertising and label paid listings as ads. The company is also required to disclose that calls to its hotlines are forwarded to paid advertisers, and list on its websites which treatment providers have paid to receive these calls.
The company must also pay $64,130 to the Attorney General’s Office for enforcement of the consent decree, future enforcement of the Consumer Protection Act and attorney costs and fees. Recovery Worldwide did not charge consumers for the calls or for use of its websites.
Assistant Attorneys General Logan Starr and Audrey Udashen with the Consumer Protection Division are leading the case for Washington.
The Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Division enforces the Consumer Protection Act and other statutes to help keep the Washington marketplace free of unfair and deceptive practices. The division investigates and files legal actions to stop unfair and deceptive practices, recovers refunds for consumers, seeks penalties and recovers costs and fees to ensure that wrongdoers pay for their actions.
To report similar conduct, or any other unfair or deceptive business practices, file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office, online or by phone at 206-464-6684.