How Philadelphia Addicts Are ‘Pimped Out’ in Treatment

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Every day in Philadelphia, hundreds of opioid addicts are forced to make a little-noticed commute. More like cargo than passengers, junk-muddled men and women journey in vans from boarding houses to drug-treatment centers for a form of group therapy whose efficacy is unknown, reports Addicts are told by the people who run their “recovery houses” what facility to attend, when to go, and for how long. If addicts don’t take the van rides, house operators threaten them with eviction. People suffering from substance abuse must then fend for themselves on the streets.

In exchange for herding people into centers, recovery-house operators pocket illegal, payments  ranging from $100 to $400 per person monthly that keep them in business. The centers, in turn, bill the government for a piece of the $680 million in Medicaid and state money paid out last year by a nonprofit contracted by the city to combat addiction and mental health issues. This predatory process is known on the street as “pimping out.” “You’re selling God’s children for money,” said Joseph DiGiovani, 36, a former addict. For months, he said, the recovery house where he lived – unlicensed and unregulated by the city, like 90 percent of such places — shuttled him to a treatment center. “You’re getting paid off people’s sickness. Money comes into play, motives start to get twisted. That’s sick, man.” Interviews with more than 140 people connected to drug addiction and treatment illustrate an enterprise that exploits the addicted as an invaluable raw material in a citywide gray market. “It’s really bad,” said City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez of the “pimping out” process. “There are people who need help with addiction, but we’ve created a system where abuse is rampant.”

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