Film about the dark side of rehab sparks restraint even as California lawmakers push for sweeping changes – East Bay Times


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The quick cut trailer to the new movie”body brokers” is a dizzying and seductive collage of guns, cash, addiction and prostitutes, punctuated by a nicely dressed man holding a finger to his pursed lips as he says, “Shhhh.”

Jack Kilmer as Utah and Alice Englert as Opal in the thriller ‘Body Brokers’. (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Body Brokers” then drops the curtain on what it says is an open secret in the country’s drug addiction industry, where drug addicts are reduced to commodities that can be recruited and recycled for big profits, then kicked to the curb when their insurance expires. It’s a scenario also explored by the Southern California News Group’s 2017 project,”Rehabilitation Riviera.”


The film is not a documentary, but is labeled as being based on real events.

However, this month the rehabilitation industry has released: a strongly worded letter to the film’s producer and the media, who demand that the film bear a different label: “fiction.”

Though they’ve only seen the trailer, the letter, signed by behavioral health and addiction rehabilitation experts from across California, says the film is sensational, irresponsible, and likely to deter addicts who need the services of legitimate treatment centers.

The tug-of-war over the independent, low-budget film comes as a handful of California lawmakers come to their own war against rogue drug abuse clinics. Two Orange County lawmakers this year proposed or renewed bills that would force licensed treatment centers to provide insurance coverage and ban false advertising — regulations that would be new in the largely unregulated industry.

In her legislative pitch to raise standards in the rehabilitation sector by: require operators to have insurance coverageCouncilor Cottie Petrie-Norris, D-Laguna Beach, denounced that “fraudsters and con artists” were running amok in the California addiction industry.

Writer-director John Swab’s new film, ‘Body Brokers’, is a crime thriller set in the world of drug treatment centers in Southern California. (Photo courtesy of John Swab)

And that is the world of ‘Body Brokers’ by director John Swab.

Swab says he was a street addict for over a decade, jumping back and forth from detox to detox across the country. He says he was brokered — meaning he and his insurance were sold to rehab by a third party — and then learned to mediate other addicts as part of a multi-billion dollar insurance scam.

But according to the letter from health behaviorists, Swab’s portrayal of that world is vastly exaggerated.

Officials overseeing public addiction treatment programs — which operate in a different universe from private programs — criticized the filmmaker for “a very inaccurate” portrayal of addiction treatment treatment as driven by greed rather than concern.

Veronica Kelley, director of the San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health and president of the County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California, which represents every county in the state, was among those who signed the letter. She said the film doesn’t describe what she sees as major differences between higher-quality public programs and commercial, private programs, where anything goes often.

“In the public system, because we’re dealing with taxpayers’ money, there’s a higher level of accountability,” Kelley said. Public programs, she noted, not only need to be licensed by the state and certified by professional organizations, but they are also audited annually by state and federal officials.

She knows both sides. A close relative, she said, sought addiction treatment through the private, commercial system and became entangled in a brokering scenario similar to the transactions depicted in the film.

“What we say in our letter is that this is only one side. People don’t know the difference between the commercial and the public system. This represents a part of the system that absolutely needs to be revamped,” Kelley said. predatory.”

Josh Page holds a photo of his friend Timmy Solomon who died of an apparent drug overdose on Sept. 2 at the age of 31. Solomon’s struggle was depicted in SCNG’s Rehab Riviera coverage. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Those who want help through the public system can call 800-968-2636, she said.

Kelley’s description, however, is more tempered than the group’s letter, stating that the film’s “irresponsible” focus could well cost lives.

Swab said those critics had no right to attack his version of his own life.

“We’re flattered that people are talking about it,” Swab said. “But this is my truth. I’ve been through this.”

Producer Jeremy Rosen said it would be worse to look the other way.

“It’s utterly reckless to ignore this happening,” Rosen said, although he admitted, “It’s a movie, not a documentary. There’s a poetic license.”

There have in fact been numerous California addiction treatment laws in Southern California News Group’s wake”rehabilitation Riviera,‘ but they were barely sweeping. Lawmakers recognize that the changes they’ve made so far have only nibbled on a much bigger problem.

Assembly Petrie-Norris says accredited treatment centers and those funded by the government should have insurance coverage in case patients become prey. But most lawmakers are reluctant to jump into the fray.

“California regulates everything that moves,” Petrie-Norris said. “But for some reason … it’s an open season for scammers and fraudsters.”

Petrie-Norris has joined forces with state insurance commissioner Ricardo Lara to push AB 1158, which would require accredited treatment centers and other clinics that receive government funding to maintain a minimum amount of insurance coverage. Standards of treatment and consumer protection would then be established to qualify for that insurance.

What Lara brings is an enforcement staff of 300 people statewide, enough manpower to enforce basic health rules in the industry — something that’s not currently part of the government’s regulatory system.

“There is (now) a total lack of regulation and oversight in this space and people are dying as a result,” said Petrie-Norris.

Another attack on “bad actors” in the rehab world comes from Senator Pat Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, who again Senate Bill 434, which would essentially prohibit treatment programs from lying.

Hailed by activists as a much-anticipated, common-sense measure, Bates’ bill would ban false advertising and marketing about basics like where a center is — “beachfront” can mean 15 miles away — and just as important as what services are provided. offered.

Rose and Allen Nelson of Santa Monica have a photo of their son Brandon Nelson in 2018. Brandon, who struggled with mental illness, died at the age of 26 after hanging himself in an unlicensed Sovereign Health home. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Bate’s bill is called Brandon’s Law, after Brandon Nelson. Nelson’s parents were told he was going to a state-of-the-art mental health program, where he would be closely monitored by a licensed therapist and psychiatrist. In reality, Nelson ended up in an unlicensed, unregulated “sober mental health facility” in San Clemente, where he had psychosis and hanged himself in 2018.

This is Bates’ third attempt to bring the bill into effect. Still, Brandon’s father, Allen, of Santa Monica, remains hopeful.

“It is of course disappointing that it was not signed the first time, but we are definitely going for the long term,” he said.

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