Insurance claims for addiction treatment can reach tens of thousands of dollars, capturing the attention of unscrupulous middlemen who want to make a quick buck. Body brokering, a technique used by some unethical treatment centers, is illegal in many states and is intended only to line the pockets of a select few—not to heal and do the most good possible.

Here’s what you need to know.

How Body Brokering Works

In 2017, NBC News aired an investigation piece that examined the problem, finding widespread corruption in the south Florida drug treatment industry.1 Insurance companies pay well for treatment, turning patients with good insurance plans into profitable targets for “junkie hunters.” These middlemen find and refer addicts with good insurance coverage to recovery programs willing to pay the highest finder’s fee.

To entice potential clients to go to the specific substance abuse treatment program that will make the broker the most money, some brokers and group home owners offer them free rent, gift cards and other perks. With their own kickbacks reaching up to $10,000 per referral, brokers can often easily afford these incentives.

Is Body Brokering Legal?

Florida state statute prohibits body brokering, also known as patient brokering. In California, if passed, Senate Bill 636 would prohibit the payment of kickbacks in exchange for client referrals.2 The Orange County Register reports that this bill has been languishing in the Senate since February, with no hearings scheduled. It also notes that patient brokering is technically illegal in the state, but there’s another provision in California law that provides for “wiggle room.”

Is Body Brokering a Victimless Crime?

Maybe you’re not concerned about individuals matching people with treatment centers in exchange for a referral fee. It might even sound like a viable business model, one that helps get people into rehab. However, body brokering is far from harmless. Below are just a few of the many ways body brokering causes harm.

Referring patients to the highest bidder doesn’t lend itself to a good fit between client and treatment. As with any other program, there are so many factors to consider before selecting the right treatment center for your needs. The highest bidder may want you—or more specifically your insurance money—but will the services offered lead to a successful recovery?

Spending priorities shift. By paying huge kickbacks to body brokers, there’s less money to provide quality services, hire qualified counselors or offer post-treatment support.

Drug or alcohol use while in treatment may even be overlooked. From a corrupt operator’s perspective, relapse translates into additional profits. The most unethical of treatment centers do not attempt to monitor the signs of an impending relapse or take steps to prevent it.

Widespread corruption and body brokering in the recovery industry harms ethical recovery centers. Treatment centers are badly needed, yet ethical facilities are tainted by the actions of the greediest operators.

Patients suffer. Body brokers prey on the most vulnerable patients. Rather than entering into a clinically strong treatment program that builds sobriety skills for life, many bounce from one questionable rehab to another. In California, where it’s still technically legal for insurance companies to issue direct payments to the patient, it’s tempting for those in newfound recovery to cash those huge checks and blow the money on drugs or alcohol. Even worse, the NBC News report told several stories of patients who have died after just such a series of events.

Body brokering impacts the entire recovery industry and ultimately harms patients who need help the most. Ethical treatment facilities exist, and they outnumber the unethical businesses. Many of them support efforts to crack down on this dangerous practice.