Movie about drug rehab’s dark side sparks pushback, even as California legislators seek sweeping changes

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The fast-cut trailer to the brand new film “Body Brokers” is a dizzying and seductive collage of weapons, money, dependancy and prostitutes, punctuated by a properly dressed man holding a finger to his pursed lips as he says: “Shhhh.”

Jack Kilmer as Utah and Alice Englert as Opal within the thriller “Physique Brokers.” (Picture courtesy of Vertical Leisure) 

“Physique Brokers” then drops the curtain on what it says is an open secret within the nation’s rehab business, the place drug addicts are decreased to commodities that may be recruited and recycled for giant earnings, after which kicked to the curb when their insurance coverage runs out. It’s a situation additionally explored by the Southern California Information Group’s 2017 mission, “Rehab Riviera.”

The film will not be a documentary however it’s labeled as being based mostly on precise occasions.

Nevertheless, this month, the rehab business issued a strongly worded letter to the movie’s producer and the media, demanding the movie carry a distinct label: “fiction.”

Although they’ve solely seen the trailer, the letter, signed by behavioral well being and dependancy rehab consultants from all through California, say the film is sensational, irresponsible and prone to scare off addicts who want the companies provided by reputable therapy facilities.

The tug-of-war over the unbiased, low-budget movie comes as a handful of California lawmakers step up their war against rogue substance abuse clinics. Two Orange County legislators this yr proposed or renewed payments that may drive licensed therapy facilities to hold insurance coverage protection and outlaw false promoting — rules that may be new within the largely unregulated business.

In her legislative pitch to boost requirements within the rehab business by requiring operators to carry insurance coverage, Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, D-Laguna Seaside, decried that “fraudsters and scammers” have been amok in California’s dependancy business.

Author-director John Swab’s new movie, “Physique Brokers,” is a criminal offense thriller set on the planet of Southern California drug therapy facilities. (Picture courtesy of John Swab) 

And that’s the world of director John Swab’s “Physique Brokers.”

Swab says he was a avenue junky for greater than a decade, bouncing from detox to detox all around the nation. He says he was brokered — that means he and his insurance coverage have been offered by a 3rd occasion to a rehab operator — and that he then realized to dealer different addicts as a part of a multi-billion greenback insurance coverage rip-off.

But, in response to the letter from behavioral well being consultants, Swab’s depiction of that world is wildly exaggerated.

Officers overseeing public dependancy therapy applications – which function in a separate universe from personal applications – blasted the filmmaker for “a extremely inaccurate” depiction of substance use dysfunction therapy as pushed by greed somewhat than care.”

Veronica Kelley, director of the San Bernardino County Division of Behavioral Well being and president of the County Behavioral Well being Administrators Affiliation of California, which represents each county within the state, was amongst those that signed the letter. She mentioned the movie doesn’t spell out what she views as stark variations between higher-quality publicly-run applications and industrial, privately-run applications, the place something typically goes.

“Within the public system, as a result of we’re coping with taxpayer cash, there’s a better stage of accountability,” Kelley mentioned. Public applications, she famous, should not solely be licensed by the state and authorized by skilled organizations, however they’re audited yearly by state and federal officers.

She is aware of either side. An in depth relative, she mentioned, sought dependancy therapy by means of the personal, industrial system and acquired caught up in a brokering situation just like the transactions depicted within the movie.

“What we’re saying in our letter is, this is only one facet. Individuals don’t know the distinction between the industrial and the general public methods. This represents part of the system that must be revamped, completely,” Kelley mentioned. “We might love for the industrial facet to look extra like ours. However the movie is generalizing to say that every one substance use dysfunction therapy is predatory.”

Josh Web page holds an image of his good friend Timmy Solomon who died of an obvious drug overdose Sept. 2 at age 31. Solomon’s battle was depicted in SCNG’s Rehab Riviera protection. (Picture by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG) 

Those that need assist by means of the general public system can name 800-968-2636, she mentioned.

Kelley’s description, nonetheless, is extra tempered than the group’s letter, which mentioned the  “irresponsible” focus of the film may very properly price lives.

Swab mentioned these critics had no proper to assault his model of his personal life.

“We’re flattered individuals are speaking about it,” Swab mentioned. “However that is my reality. I went by means of this.”

Producer Jeremy Rosen mentioned it might be worse to look the opposite approach.

“It’s wildly reckless to disregard that is occurring,” Rosen mentioned, though he conceded, “It’s a movie, not a documentary. There’s some poetic license.”

There have, in reality, been numerous legislative changes to addiction treatment in California within the wake of Southern California Information Group’s “Rehab Riviera,” however they have been hardly sweeping. Lawmakers acknowledge that the modifications they’ve made, up to now, have solely nibbled at a a lot larger downside.

Assemblywoman Petrie-Norris says licensed therapy facilities and people funded by the federal government ought to carry insurance coverage protection in case sufferers grow to be prey. However most legislators are reticent to leap into the frey. 

“California regulates something that strikes,” Petrie-Norris mentioned. “However for some motive … it’s been open season for scammers and fraudsters.”

Petrie-Norris has joined forces with state Insurance coverage Commissioner Ricardo Lara to push AB 1158, which might require licensed therapy facilities and different clinics that obtain authorities funding to keep up a minimal quantity of insurance coverage protection. Requirements of therapy and client protections would then be set to qualify for that insurance coverage.

What Lara brings is a statewide enforcement workers of 300 folks, sufficient manpower to implement primary well being guidelines within the business — one thing that at present isn’t a part of the state regulatory system.

“There’s (now) a complete lack of regulation and oversight on this house and individuals are dying in consequence,” Petrie-Norris mentioned.

One other strike at “unhealthy actors” within the rehab world comes from Sen. Pat Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, who reintroduced Senate Bill 434, which might basically forbid therapy applications from mendacity.

Hailed by activists as a long-overdue, commonsense measure, Bates’ invoice would prohibit false promoting and advertising and marketing about such fundamentals as the place a middle is positioned – “on the seaside” can imply 15 miles away –  and as important as what companies are provided.

Rose and Allen Nelson of Santa Monica maintain an image of their son Brandon Nelson in 2018. Brandon, who was fighting psychological sickness, died at age 26 after hanging himself in an unlicensed Sovereign Well being residence. (Picture by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG) 

Bate’s invoice is known as Brandon’s Legislation, after Brandon Nelson. Nelson’s dad and mom have been informed he was going to a state-of-the-art psychological well being care program the place he’d be intently monitored by a licensed therapist and a psychiatrist. In actuality, Nelson wound up in an unlicensed, unregulated “sober living home mental health facility” in San Clemente, where he had a psychotic break and hung himself in  2018.

That is Bates’ third try to get the invoice enacted. Nonetheless, Brandon’s father, Allen, of Santa Monica, stays hopeful.

“It’s clearly disappointing that it wasn’t signed the primary time, however we’re definitely in for the lengthy haul,” he mentioned.

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