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How to counteract media bias against treatment centers

November 22, 2017
by Julie Miller, Editor in Chief
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In today’s era of increased scrutiny directed at addiction treatment centers, it almost seems as if the unethical providers are the rule rather than the exception. But we know that’s far from the truth. Mainstream media certainly isn’t helping, as it tends to be biased against providers, painting an exclusively grim picture of profiteering and exploitation.

For example, a recent article in the Daily Beast used a string of adjectives to describe the industry: “bloated-by-fraud, saturated-by-shady-marketing, corrupted-by-billions-in-funds rehab industry—sick and in crisis.” What the article fails to recognize is that the unethical behavior is often attributed to career criminals that have infiltrated the market rather than treatment centers gone bad.

But maybe, just maybe, mainstream media is starting to temper its bias in parallel with the reduction in stigmatizing attitudes overall.

Recovery stories

I spoke to Brian Sullivan, director of public relations for Addiction Campuses, yesterday. He told me about the experience the organization had when the deputy editor of TIME reached out to discuss the possibility of preparing a feature article for the magazine based on the recovery journey of two people who overdosed on a street corner and were referred to Addiction Campuses facilities.

“They sent the best of the best—the best crews, the best reporters,” Sullivan told me.

The resulting feature package was surprisingly fair about the science of addiction and the challenges of recovery. In fact, TIME and its partner MIC spent more than a year investigating the piece.

It begins with a video from 2016 in which a middle-aged couple, Ron and Carla, are seen suffering the effects of overdose on a public street with onlookers capturing the moment and making irreverent comments. It goes on to put addiction and overdose in context through the individuals’ lives.

“There were a number of outlets interested in telling Ron and Carla's story,” says Sullivan. “Some media outlets focused on the overdose and viral video, understandably, because that was the big news. But both Ron and Carla were hungry to move on and take the story a step further to educate viewers on recovery.”

Sullivan says there was a team of five reporters prepared to capture interviews on camera in three different locations, spanning an entire week. What made the difference for him was the fact that TIME specifically wanted to tell Ron and Carla’s recovery story.

“Any time we are approached by a media outlet, on a local or national level, the first thing I ask is the angle of the story,” he says.

His advice for other treatment centers is to use what he calls the THINK method:

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Julie Miller

Editor in Chief

Julie Miller

@editor_JMiller

Julie Miller has more than 14 years of experience observing, analyzing and reporting on various...

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