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1.) The Addiction Recovery Industry
The business of treating addiction has come a long way since Bill Wilson developed the 12 Step program in the 1930s. It’s now a huge industry with deep pockets, an impressive lobbying budget, and a vested interest in paternalistic public health policies. This industry has two big policy concerns: It wants the government to direct users—both hard and recreational—into addiction treatment facilities instead of jail, and it wants the government to require insurance companies to cover addiction treatment like it would any other illness. This doesn’t mean the addiction recovery industry doesn’t have voluntary clients, just that it wants government to declare drug use a disease, force anyone who has it to receive very specific treatment from very specific doctors, and have a third party pay the bill.
The addiction services industry didn’t get this power by wishing for it. Since 1989, addiction services trade groups and individual companies have donated a combined $869,405 to political campaigns and spent almost $5 million lobbying in order to secure direct and indirect government funding of addiction services.
The biggest player on the rehab block is Phoenix House, which was started in 1967 by six Manhattan heroin addicts. Today, Phoenix House runs 150 addiction programs in 10 states, including in-patient and out-patient programs, as well as Phoenix Academy, a series of boarding schools for substance-using teens. Much of its $100 million budget comes from earmarks and government contracts: $250,000 for Phoenix House in Springfield; $480,000 for Phoenix House in Brentwood; $650,000 for Phoenix House in Dallas; $750,000 for Phoenix House in Brooklyn. The list goes on, and on, and on. Those earmarks don’t come cheap, however. Between 2002 and 2011, Phoenix House spent $1.28 million lobbying.
Phoenix House also supports the Obama Administration’s most recent pledge to spend more money on (much criticized) drug courts and other diversion strategies, as nearly all such programs shuffle drug users through addiction treatment centers. The company also invited former ONDCP senior advisor Kevin Sabet to pre-emptively attack legalization advocates on the Phoenix House website the day Obama's report was released.
The National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC), which bills itself as “the nation's largest association of addiction focused professionals,” has spent $134,000 on campaign contributions and $338,000 lobbying Congress since 1995. The most notable recipient is Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), who’s received $12,000 in campaign donations from the group. Ramstad is the co-chair of both the House Addiction Treatment and Recovery Caucus and the Law Enforcement Caucus, as well as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Health. In 2008, Ramstad was rumored to be on Barack Obama’s shortlist for drug czar. He has a history of earmarking money for addiction treatment facilities and programs, and once earmarked $250,000 for Minnesota Teen Challenge, an Assembly of God-affiliated rehab program that teaches “Addiction is a sin, not a disease.”
Lobbying and campaign finance data courtesy of the Sunlight Foundation's Influence Explorer.
Mike Riggs is an associate editor at Reason magazine.