The quick trailer for the new film “Body Correctors” is a stunning and seductive collage of weapons, money, addiction and prostitutes, punctuated by a well-dressed man holding a finger over his pursed lips as he says, “Shhhh.”
“Body Brokers” then opens the curtain on what he says is an open secret in the country’s rehabilitation industry, where drug addicts are reduced to commodities that can be recruited and recycled for big profits, and then kicked to the curb when your insurance runs out. It is also a scenario explored by the 2017 project of the Southern California News Group, “Rehab Riviera. “
The film is not a documentary, but is labeled as based on real events.
However, this month, the rehabilitation industry issued a letter with strong words to the film’s producer and the media, demanding that the film have a different label: “fiction”.
Although they saw only the trailer, the letter, signed by behavioral health and addiction rehabilitation experts from across California, says the film is sensational, irresponsible and likely to scare addicts who need the services offered by legitimate treatment centers.
The tug-of-war over independent, low-budget film comes at a time when a handful of California lawmakers are intensifying their war against dishonest drug abuse clinics. Two Orange County lawmakers this year proposed or renewed bills that would force licensed treatment centers to offer insurance coverage and ban misleading advertising – regulations that would be new in the largely unregulated sector.
In her legislative speech to raise standards in the rehabilitation industry, demanding that operators have insurance coverage, Congresswoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, D-Laguna Beach, lamented that “fraudsters and scammers” were crazy in the California addiction industry.
And this is the world of “Body Brokers” by director John Swab.
Swab says he was addicted to the streets for more than a decade, going from detox to detox across the country. He says he was a broker – meaning that he and his insurance were sold by a third party to a rehabilitation provider – and that he learned to broker other addicts as part of a billion-dollar insurance scam.
However, according to the letter from behavioral health experts, Swab’s description of this world is extremely exaggerated.
Officials who oversee public addiction treatment programs – which operate in a universe separate from private programs – criticized the filmmaker for a “highly inaccurate” representation of the treatment of substance use disorder as motivated by greed rather than care.
Veronica Kelley, director of the San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health and president of the California County Behavioral Health Directors Association, which represents all counties in the state, was among those who signed the letter. She said the film does not explain what she sees as stark differences between high-quality public programs and the much larger world of private commercial programs, where everything happens.
“In the public system, because we are dealing with taxpayer money, there is a higher level of responsibility,” said Kelley. Public programs, she noted, must not only be licensed by the state and certified by professional organizations, but are also audited annually by state and federal officials.
She knows both sides. A close relative, she said, sought treatment for addiction through the private trading system and was caught in a brokerage scenario similar to the transactions portrayed in the film.
“What we are saying in our letter is that this is only one side. People don’t know the difference between the commercial system and the public. This represents a part of the system that needs to be redesigned, for sure, ”said Kelley. “We would love for the commercial side to be more like ours. But the film is generalizing in saying that any treatment for substance use disorder is predatory ”.
Anyone who wants help through the public system can call 800-968-2636, she said.
Kelley’s description, however, is more moderate than the group’s letter, which said the film’s “irresponsible” focus could very well cost lives.
Swab said that these critics had no right to attack his version of his own life.
“We were flattered by people talking about it,” said Swab. “But this is my truth. I went through this. “
Producer Jeremy Rosen said it would be worse to look the other way.
“It is extremely unwise to ignore that this is happening,” said Rosen, although he admitted: “It is a film, not a documentary. There is some poetic license. “
In fact, there have been numerous legislative changes for the treatment of addiction in California in the wake of the Southern California News Group’s “Rehabilitation Riviera”, but they have hardly been comprehensive. Lawmakers recognize that the changes they have made so far have only nibbled on a much bigger problem.
Mrs Petrie-Norris says that licensed treatment centers and those funded by the government should have insurance coverage in case patients become victims. But most lawmakers are reluctant to jump to frey.
“California regulates everything that moves,” said Petrie-Norris. “But for some reason … the season of scammers and fraudsters is opening.”
Petrie-Norris joined forces with state insurance commissioner Ricardo Lara to boost AB 1158, which would require licensed 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 this insurance.
What Lara brings is an inspection team across the state of 300 people, enough manpower to enforce basic health rules in the industry – something that is not currently part of the state regulatory system.
“There is (now) a total lack of regulation and enforcement in this space and people are dying as a result,” said Petrie-Norris.
Another attack on “bad actors” in the rehabilitation world comes from Senator Pat Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, who reintroduced Senate Bill 434, which essentially prohibits lying treatment programs.
Hailed by activists as a long-awaited measure of common sense, Bates’s project would ban misleading advertising and marketing on basic items like the location of a center – “on the beach” can mean 15 miles away – and as vital as which ones services are offered.
Bate’s bill is called Brandon’s Law, in honor of Brandon Nelson. Nelson’s parents were told that he was going to a state-of-the-art mental health program, where he would be closely monitored by a licensed therapist and a psychiatrist. In reality, Nelson ended up in an unlicensed and unregulated “sober home mental health establishment” in San Clemente, where he had a psychotic break and hanged himself in 2018.
This is Bates’ third attempt to approve the project. Still, Brandon’s father, Allen, of Santa Monica, remains hopeful.
“It is obviously disappointing that it was not signed the first time, but we are certainly in the long run,” he said.
The proposal would authorize the California Department of Health Services to investigate allegations of misconduct in rehabilitation centers and impose sanctions when necessary.
“If this is approved and applied, it will bring about significant change for the consumer,” said David Skonezny, founder of “It’s time for ethics in the treatment of addiction”, a private Facebook group of more than 5,600 treatment professionals who seek to elevate the bar.
“This is one of the areas in which the profession has done the public a great disservice, misrepresenting itself in ways large and small.”
Skonezny, a substance abuse counselor, has been in the business for years. He said he was prepared to hate the movie “Body Brokers”, but he didn’t.
“The film is a really accurate look at what happens in private, for-profit programs that lack integrity,” he said. “This moody guy running a call center, catching addicts on the street; a girl doing tricks at a motel to pay for drugs for her and her boyfriend, people getting paid everywhere – yes. That’s how it looks. “
Bates agrees. She has been working on the subject for years and hopes that the film can finally bring reality to her fellow lawmakers, who have been slow to act. She hopes to organize an exhibition in Sacramento only for lawmakers.
“The man who wrote the story lived it,” she said. “This is hardly fiction.”