People seeking addiction treatment for themselves or their loved ones are bombarded with online ads that promise miracle treatments, rapid detox, and cheap and easy solutions to alcohol and substance addiction.
Unfortunately, most of them are scams — a waste of time and money at best, and actively harmful to people who need serious care at worst. Addiction can be a dangerous and difficult problem to deal with, and the safety of you and your loved ones is too important to entrust to a program without doing your homework first. Here’s what to look for.
Who Is In Charge Of Accreditation?
There are several organizations that evaluate treatment facilities, but the two most prominent are the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) and the Joint Commission, previously known as JCAHO. Most addiction rehab programs seek accreditation from these two organizations.
CARF is a non-profit organization that evaluates and accredits substance abuse programs. CARF covers a broad range of programs, including assistive technology for employment, child and youth programs, respite services, and mental health rehabilitation programs.
CARF has granted accreditation to 90 specific types of programs, including over 25,000 individual programs in 3000 organizations across the United States, Canada, and Europe.
The Joint Commission
The Joint Commission, formerly known as JCAHO, is the nation’s largest accrediting body for hospitals and medical facilities and the second largest accrediting organization for addiction rehabilitation.
The Joint Commission offers accreditation for many types of health care providers, including home health care providers, physicians’ practices, mental health treatment facilities, assisted living and nursing facilities, and large hospitals.
What Is The Accreditation Process?
Accreditation is an intensive process — it requires a substantial investment of time, money, and a detailed examination of a program’s operations, staff, and policies. Accreditation is an indication that the facility or program is dedicated to following best practices in addiction therapy.
The facility itself will go through onsite visits and an audit of management, staff credentials, program practices, and treatment outcomes. The accrediting body will also ensure that the facility meets acceptable standards of care for client addiction therapy, as well as meeting safety standards for clients and staff.
The staff will be evaluated too. Staff should have educational experience that’s up to the accrediting body standards, operate according to a standard set of procedures and best practices, and be well-trained in HIPAA compliance.
The faculty workforce should also be culturally sensitive to a potentially diverse client population. This includes specific training in sensitivity to racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ individuals, elderly patients, non-English speakers, the physically and mentally disabled, and other minority groups.
What Accreditation Means To You
When you arrive at an addiction treatment center, you want to be confident that you or your loved one will be treated with dignity and respect, and that they will receive a personalized treatment plan that best fits their particular situation and needs.
While many states have their own licensing requirements, an accreditation from CARF or the Joint Commission often holds facilities and programs to an even higher standard. In addition, these accrediting bodies hold the same standards across the board, so you don’t have to learn the nuances of individual states’ standards.
In addition, the fact that a facility has made the commitment to seek accreditation is an indicator of their dedication to their clients. The accreditation process is exhaustive and involves complete transparency for months on end, so you can be assured that any facility or program that starts that process is genuinely trying to help.
Safety is another key consideration. Addiction and the accompanying problems of other diseases, withdrawal symptoms, and mental health issues can be very dangerous to the health of your loved one. If you’re entrusting them to a program or facility, especially an inpatient facility with limited outside interaction, you want to be confident that the staff’s credentials are up to the standards of an accrediting body.
Accreditation By The Numbers
In 2013, the National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services cataloged 13,339 addiction treatment programs willing to provide information on their programs. Of those, 21.8% were accredited by CARF and 19.2% by the Joint Commission.
That leaves 56.9% of treatment facilities that are accredited by neither organization. Does that mean that the standard of care at those facilities is insufficient? Not necessarily. But since the reason for lack of accreditation — whether it’s lax standards or simply not having started the process — isn’t known, it’s hard to quantify or compare the services that these facilities provide.
Accreditation is especially difficult for smaller treatment centers to undergo, and is voluntary under the National Institute of Health — it’s not required in order to operate a treatment center. But facilities with accreditation meet internationally accepted standards for treatment, so use caution when using a non-accredited facility.