Despite Crackdown, Patient Brokers Continue Exploiting Addicts

Teenage girl talking with psychologist during meeting of support group
Patient brokers lure those seeking treatment for substance abuse to unqualified out-of-state drug rehabs. (Getty Images)

A year after New York State made it illegal to financially benefit from referring patients to addiction treatment programs, so-called “patient brokers” have found new ways of targeting desperate customers.

Several years ago, “body brokers” began targeting support groups directly; they were spotted in 12-step meetings for those addicted to drugs and alcohol. Then they made a big splash on social media, where they could reach tenfold more people who are desperately seeking help.

“What’s dangerous is the patient is not comprehensively assessed and placed in a program most suited to meet their needs,” says Claudia Ragni, a credentialed alcoholism and substance abuse counselor who owns Kenneth Peters Center for Recovery in Syosset and is spearheading a crusade to educate parents and officials on spotting these brokers.

She says that brokers have been paid to bring presentations to Long Island public schools, trolling for customers.

“Not all programs are created equal, and in my 35 years’ experience, each program has its own culture and strengths,” she says. “We need to match patients with the right program for optimum success. When a patient is brokered, they are sent to the highest bidder.”

Critics say that these unprofessional, noncredentialed patient brokers are preying on people at their most vulnerable times — targeting them when they don’t know where to turn for help. Ragni likens body brokering to human trafficking.

“These programs are all out of state, and all out of network, and burn through the patient’s insurance so when they return home, they have no insurance to pay for therapeutic support while they reintegrate into the community where the addiction began,” she says. “Legitimate professional programs do not need brokers to fill beds. So, it stands to reason that substandard programs are the ones brokers send people to.”

Body brokers are paid for each person they send to a facility, and they refer their targets to programs offering the highest kickbacks to the patient brokers, say critics, with little regard for the patient’s specific needs.

The tragic death of 20-year-old Jenna Jacobsen of East Islip occurred after she was lured to a Florida rehab when a patient broker paid her airfare, in late April. She disappeared before entering the facility and was found dead nearby on May 30.

In 2017, the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) spurred a bipartisan patient brokering bill that was passed by the state legislature and became law in October 2018.

“Vulnerable New Yorkers struggling with addiction are being targeted and falsely promised lifesaving treatment services and then are given inadequate and ineffective treatment at outrageous costs,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at the time.

OASAS also issued a directive that requires patient referrals to be delivered by certified and credentialed professionals, who are prohibited from receiving referral fees.

“New York has strong safeguards that protect those seeking help for addiction from being exploited by unscrupulous people seeking to make a profit,” OASAS spokesperson Evan Frost told the Press. “OASAS is committed to ensuring that New Yorkers who need substance use disorder services are able to receive those services without leaving New York State…”

OASAS is actively investigating several individuals and entities they suspect are involved in patient brokering, he adds. New Yorkers can report suspicious activity by calling 1-800 553-5790 or emailing [email protected].

With those actions, New York became the latest state to focus on the dark world of patient brokering that often involves shadowy addiction recovery facilities in Florida, Arizona, and California.

• Reaches out through support groups or social media.
• Asks for your insurance card first thing.
• Buys an insurance policy for you to enter treatment. (This is illegal in 50 states.)
• Offers you money to go to a particular program. (This is illegal in 50 states.)
• Pays for your travel to go to rehab. (This is illegal in 50 states)
• Has you sign a HIPPA release for them and tells you not to speak to your family.
• Says things like: “I work for many places that have proven success rates.” (There are no proven success rates for rehabs.)
• Offers free sober living if you go to the rehab they choose. (This is illegal in 50 states.)
—Source: Claudia Ragni, Kenneth Peters Center for Recovery

• Go only to an OASAS-licensed treatment provider for a professional assessment of need or referral.
• Call LICADD 516-747-2606 or 631-979-1700 or
• Call the state’s HOPEline at 1-877-8-HOPENY (1-877-846-7369) or by texting HOPENY (Short Code 467369).