Tag Archives: Google

LegitScript Opens The Spigot & Congress Chimes In on Internet Marketing

One of our favorite reporters in this space, Behavioral Healthcare Executive’s Julie Miller, broke the news that LegitScript has released the first wave of “certified” advertisers for whom using AdWords and PPC will be accessible again.

I reported about this new structure back in April 2018 in my article “Google Reinstates Ads for Addiction Treatment Centers, With Pre-Certification by LegitScript” but since that time, there has been little to no public information released about the process or the status of applications.

According to Miller’s article, “Treatment centers secure inaugural AdWords certifications,” over 100 treatment providers have been approved so far, according to David Khalaf, communications specialist for LegitScript, Google’s independent partner overseeing the certifications. This far exceeds the 20-30 that LegitScript initially reported they believed they would be able to accommodate.

“Completing the LegitScript application was a rigorous task, according to Doug Tieman, president and CEO of Caron Treatment Centers. Caron has facilities in six states and is one of the newly certified organizations now cleared to bid on premium Google AdWords. Although earning the certification takes time and effort, Tieman says the benefit for the industry is that such vetting will help eliminate black-hat marketers from even participating in the more robust Google paid search options. Only the documented good guys will have the privilege.”

“’Unethical marketing practices in the addiction treatment industry have become common,’” Tieman says. “’Yet prohibiting all treatment facilities from advertising is not a viable option for anyone—Google, treatment centers or consumers.’”

Seabrook, with multiple centers in New Jersey, has also secured its certification.

According to Miller: “It’s important to keep in mind that the certification is still ramping up and that it only applies to AdWords advertising. Organic search engine optimization and Google Maps will remain in place. For the newly certified organizations, LegitScript will also continue to monitor their activity.”

This all comes on the heels of a 2.5 hour hearing that the House Energy & Commerce Committee hearing on Tuesday, July 24th, where House Representatives questioned entities such as Michael Cartwright, Chairman and CEO of American Addiction Centers as well as owner of Rehabs.com, on how their online platforms work.

While the hearing is not “must watch TV”, it seemed apparent to us that Congress understands there is a problem with matching patient with the marketplace, but hasn’t yet focused on the source of that problem, which is insurance companies arbitrarily (and in my opinion, illegally) refusing to pay for mental health and behavioral health care, and local zoning authorities who continue to place NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) politics with the siting of necessary facilities.

If there was a nationwide, robust mental health in-network system where providers could actually get paid and that patients could more easily access, perhaps using Google to search for help would not be as critical.

We agree with Caron’s Doug Tieman on this point. By restricting all information to prospective patients, we are effectively making it that much more difficult to access care.

NOTE: During the Congressional hearing, AAC’s Cartwright kept lauding a Tennessee law which supposedly passed this year which addresses the issue of unscrupulous advertisers. In our read of that law, it is an absolute copy of Florida’s law that the Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force drafted and the Florida legislature passed over a year ago.  Florida continues to lead the nation in not only best in class health care for people with Substance Use Disorders, but also in protecting those who may fall victim to opportunists taking advantage of this disjointed health care system.

BREAKING NEWS – Google Reinstates Ads for Addiction Treatment Centers, With Pre-certification by LegitScript

Google will start accepting ads for addiction treatment centers again, Reuters reports. The company suspended the ads in September after The Verge reported that Google ads were being used to direct people to shady addiction treatment centers and away from legitimate facilities. Starting in July, treatment centers can run ads on Google but only after they’ve been vetted by LegitScript, a firm that also verifies online pharmacies.

Google told Reuters Monday it would resume accepting ads from U.S. addiction treatment centers in July, nearly a year after it suspended the lucrative category of advertisers for numerous deceptive and misleading ads.

According to the just-released revised advertising policy press release from Google:

In May 2018, Google will update the Healthcare and medicines policy to restrict advertising for recovery-oriented services for drug and alcohol addiction. This policy will apply globally, across all accounts that advertise addiction services.

Here are some examples of addiction services that will be restricted under this new policy:

  • Clinical treatment providers for drug and alcohol addiction, including inpatient, residential, and outpatient programs
  • Recovery support services for drug and alcohol addiction, including sober living environments and mutual help organizations
  • Lead generators and referral agencies for drug and alcohol addiction services
  • Crisis hotlines for drug and alcohol addiction

Outside the United States, ads for addiction services are currently not allowed.

In the United States, advertisers will need to be certified by LegitScript as addiction services providers before they can advertise through AdWords.

Not all drug and alcohol addiction services are eligible for LegitScript Certification.

Those not eligible for certification, such as sober homes and referral agencies, are not allowed to advertise for drug and alcohol addiction services on Google.

LegitScript charges a fee for processing and monitoring applicants, but fee waivers may be available in certain circumstances.

According to John Horton, CEO of LegitScript:

All of us at LegitScript are really excited about this new program. In many ways, it’s a natural extension of the work we’ve done for years to make the rogue internet pharmacy problem — a driver of prescription drug abuse and other problems — smaller. One of the most pernicious problems our country faces today is opioid addiction and other substance abuse. In the midst of this crisis, some opportunistic addiction treatment providers have been cashing in on patients’ recovery efforts and insurance billing opportunities. The worst of these have not only failed to provide treatment, but have encouraged ongoing drug abuse in patients trying to break the habit.

At the same time, addressing opioid addiction rates requires effective drug treatment strategies: patients and their families need to know which treatment providers are credible and legitimate, and which ones should be avoided. We hope that our program will help provide patients and our partners (like Google) information about which programs provide genuine treatment and which are, in essence, scams.

An important note about cadence: during the first three months, we’re going to intentionally take it slow. Irrespective of how many applications we receive, we’ll probably only certify about 20 to 30, simply so that we can make sure and get the process right. After that, we’ll ramp up the speed. (This goes into the “lessons learned” bucket from our existing healthcare merchant certification program.) This also works well with Google’s timeline, since they have indicated they will actually begin allowing these advertisers in July.

To learn more about LegitScript Certification and submit an application, visit LegitScript’s website.

US advertisers that are certified by LegitScript must also be certified by Google before they can begin advertising.

Advertisers with LegitScript Certification can request certification with Google starting in July, when the form is published.

Interest in treatment for abuse of opioids and other prescription drugs has soared in recent years amid what authorities have described as a nationwide epidemic.

Scammers found that Google ads were an easy way to defraud treatment-seekers in an industry in which regulations vary greatly by jurisdiction, authorities and patient advocacy organizations have said.

Google suspended alcohol and drug treatment advertising on search pages and millions of third-party apps and websites in the U.S. in September, the week after tech publication The Verge posted a lengthy story about scams. Google expanded the prohibition globally in January.

The move cut off at least $78 million annually worth of advertising in the U.S. alone, research firm Kantar Media estimated.

Most advertisers can buy ads through Google with few hurdles to clear. But Google has adopted additional vetting for locksmiths, garage-door repairers, drug makers and online pharmacies following public pressure. Google has said it also will begin seeking more documentation from political advertisers this year.

The addiction treatment rules apply to in-person facilities, crisis hotlines and support groups.

LegitScript will evaluate treatment providers on 15 criteria, including criminal background checks and license and insurance verification. They must also provide “written policies and procedures demonstrating a commitment to best practices, effective recovery and continuous improvement,” according to LegitScript, which will charge $995 upfront and then $1,995 annually for vetting.

The National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers and the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse support the standards, John Horton, chief executive of LegitScript, said in an interview last week.

A vetting process for sober-living houses and non-U.S. treatment centers has yet to be set, he said.

Horton acknowledged the “extra step” may frustrate rehab centers.

“It’s unfortunate, but this is one way the market gets cleaner and people get the help they deserve,” he said.

Marcia Lee Taylor, chief policy officer of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, to whom Google has donated advertising space, said earlier efforts to certify treatment services have failed because there was no “business incentive to answer all these invasive questions.”

Tying access to the world’s biggest online advertising system to certification makes applying worthwhile, Taylor said.

The new rules do not affect free business listings on Google Maps, which also have been susceptible to fraud. Google said it is continuously developing ways to combat Maps spammers.

More about this new model will be part of my presentation “Public Policy and the Law of Marketing Treatment Programs” at the 2nd Annual Treatment Center Executive & Marketing Retreat hosted by the Institute for the Advancement of Behavioral Healthcare in Hilton Head, SC, April 30 – May 1, 2018.

Why It Took Google So Long to End Shady Rehab Center Ads

Google has been in our news circle (and yours) a lot lately regarding its announcement that it was going to scale back AdWord campaigns (for how long, we do not know) for the addiction treatment industry.

To date, numerous stories have been written. The one story that has not been written (until now) was the “why” it has taken Google so long to acknowledge its role and moral responsibility within this space (which was also my topic of my presentation, “Public Policy and the Law of Marketing Treatment Programs,” at the recent National Conference on Addiction Disorders in Baltimore, MD).

Michael Smith and his fellow reporters from Bloomberg Businessweek have taken on that task in their story: “Why It Took Google So Long to End Shady Rehab Center Ads”.

It became inherently obvious that Google knew how much money it was making from advertising in this space when they had a presence in the exhibition hall at an addiction conference that I attended a year ago.

In May, scores of people on the front lines of America’s opioid crisis packed the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers conference in Austin to listen to a Google contractor named Josh Weum. Google LLC doesn’t have anything to do with treating addicts, and the company didn’t send Weum there to talk about helping people get clean. He was explaining how to use Google to cash in on America’s $35 billion addiction treatment market.

Specifically, Weum was part of a panel discussion on ethics. But his job was to promote Google’s giant digital marketing business, and for 14 minutes he threw around such terms as desktop immersion, conquesting, multiscreen dynamic, and PPC (pay per click). At the heart of Weum’s pitch was the product that has made Google’s parent, Alphabet Inc., the second-most valuable company in the world: the AdWords keyword auction system. Through this system, addiction treatment providers (like any other advertisers) bid for search words. If they win, their ads sit atop the free search results; any time someone clicks on an ad, Google gets paid. Weum’s message was simple: AdWords is the most efficient way to the addicts who can afford treatment. “Google is here to help you, as far as growth,” Weum, who gave his title as AdWords ambassador, told the crowd of owners and operators of addiction treatment facilities.

As I sat there, I found the lack of congruence with what I was hearing with what I had been experiencing in the real world to be troubling, how unethical treatment providers, and in some cases criminals, use AdWords to exploit addicts. As we were already well aware, a recent article by writer Cat Ferguson in Verge further described how treatment operators use Google to deceive vulnerable patients about treatments, facilities, and even the locations of their clinics. Some advertisers posed as caregivers but were really call centers that sold leads on patients to the highest bidder.

So as I sat at NAATP listening to this sales pitch by Google (and for those who know me well), I was fidgeting in my seat and could not bite my tongue much longer:

As the discussion wound down, Jeffrey Lynne, a lawyer in Boca Raton, Fla., had heard enough. Lynne, who specializes in advising addiction treatment centers, stood up and accused Google of not only enabling a dirty business but actively profiting from it. “Google has a fundamental responsibility to stop making money hand over fist by jacking up these ad prices because of an algorithm,” Lynne said, drawing applause from the crowd. “We need you to step up to the plate,” he said. “Because people are using you to human-traffic our children.”

Google reps have since said the company is zeroing in on 70,000 addiction-treatment-related keywords.

“It will be both complicated and expensive—if Google successfully cuts off shady operators, it’s going to cost the company money. But then, no one ever said it was easy getting clean.”

Google Regulates Fraudulent Addiction Marketing

After months if not years of industry leaders complaining about the gamesmanship in addiction treatment center marketing, and the findings by a Grand Jury in Palm Beach County, Florida, the nation’s search engine leader, Google, has finally clamped down on what has been found to be substantive marketing abuses by internet-savvy providers.

It is sad, however, that what is otherwise a very viable (if not the only) ability to find a treatment programs that match needs has become a “no man’s land” of mines and traps for the unwary.

For now, we believe that Google is simply “putting the brakes” on a runaway problem until they can resolve the problem that has been created.

We have been warning the industry that this was coming for weeks, if not months. We have been helping clients with alternative advertising avenues. Some have gotten ahead of this curve. Others, well, have not.

The exceptional article from Cat Ferguson of The Verge can be found here.

The article from the NY Times can be found here.

And, of course, video of our polite unsolicited “confrontation” with the Google rep at the 2017 NAATP Leadership Conference can be seen here (Pt.1Pt. 2).

At the end of the day, the overriding public policy in healthcare is that our nation wants patients to voluntarily and intelligently choose their healthcare providers. That is absolutely the case in addiction healthcare, where an overwhelming number of patients travel for treatment.