WASHINGTON D.C. — Congress is asking tough questions to operators of a local drug rehab center our I-team has been reporting about for months.
The ABC Action News I-Team has learned American Addiction Centers is on a tight deadline to provide answers.
“They're playing with people's lives,” said former River Oaks Treatment Center patient Tonia Donnini.
She went to the Riverview, Florida rehab last year for treatment of alcohol abuse, after receiving a referral from an Ohio detox center,
Donnini says River Oaks offered an incentive to seek treatment there.
“They would pay for my flight down. They would transport me from Tampa airport,” she said.
After arriving, she says she got little counseling and questionable treatment.
“We played Bingo for therapy,” she said.
But the center billed her nearly $77,000 for 30 days of treatment.
She's not alone.
The I-Team has reported for months about big bills, security threats and other issues at River Oaks.
“There's no governing body regulating these types of facilities,” said Donnini.
Congress is finally getting involved.
“It’s a multi-faceted approach. That's why there's 60 pieces of legislation we're trying to work through,” House Commerce and Energy Committee Chairman Greg Walden said in a recent committee hearing involving potential solutions to the opioid crisis.
The Committee is now demanding River Oak’s parent Company, American Addiction Centers, turn over information about call centers, referrals, billing, criminal charges involving employees and lawsuits.
When the I-Team reached out to American Addiction Centers, CEO and Founder Michael Cartwright called us back.
He said his company will fully cooperate with the Congressional inquiry.
Cartwright says he welcomes federal regulation of the addiction treatment industry, since currently his company operates under nine different sets of rules in nine different states.
Donnini says help can’t come soon enough.
“There has to be some oversight with these facilities,” she said.
In less than a year, she's lost three friends she met in treatment at River Oaks.
Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-New Port Richey, FL) is a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
He issued the following statement today:
"An increased demand for recovery from substance use disorder has sadly attracted bad actors into the recovery space in order to make a quick buck by taking advantage of patients and families in crisis. Currently, regulations for addiction recovery providers vary from state-to-state and are virtually non-existent in some states. As a result, patients and families are unable to confidently identify quality sober living environments. It is vital that we work in a bipartisan manner to address laws and regulations, or lack thereof, which exacerbates this national crisis."
Bilirakis is sponsoring a bill called the Ensuring Access to Quality Sober Living Act and is introducing a House companion to Senator Marco Rubio's Sober Home Fraud Detection Act.