Marketing Ethics in the Drug Treatment Industry


The Association for Addiction Professionals outlines an extensive code of ethics for its members. If those involved in the treatment of addiction are following the extensive ethical guidelines outlined by this, and similar professional associations, then it is very unlikely they would participate in unethical marketing practices. However, the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers goes one step further and also discusses the importance of ethical treatment as it relates to marketing services.

The importance of ethical treatment throughout the services provided is never more important than when dealing with healthcare. When it is the mental health and well-being of a population so desperately in need of help, it is even more important that those individuals are sure that the treatment they are being given is beyond reproach. The three primary focuses of ethical marketing include the referral process, advertising practices, and patient privacy.


It is simply unacceptable for patient referrals to be rewarded with gifts, funds, or any other form of compensation. To do so undermines the patient-counselor relationship. It could imply that it was the anticipated personal benefit, rather than the competency of the treatment facility, which was the motivating factor for the referral.

This could, in fact, drive some referrals for reasons other than what is in the best interest of the patient. More importantly, it could also harm the recovery process of those patients who were receiving appropriate and beneficial treatment by calling into question the legitimacy of their treatment.


Advertising should focus on those aspects of treatment which are relevant and factual. Such information as location, facility capacities, staff credentials, and program details should be discussed. However, emotional manipulation of patient’s or family members via unrealistic expectations or claims must be avoided.

These patients and their families are desperate for hope and a way out of the lifestyle that has trapped them. Making promises as to the efficacy of treatment or the prognosis after treatment ends is unethical.


Many facilities wish to use client testimonials, images, and other personal information for the purposes of validating their program and advertising. While this may be acceptable for patients who have successfully undergone treatment, it is absolutely unacceptable for patients who are still actively engaging in the process.

At no point in the recovery process should a patient’s image, information, or experiences be used without their express permission. Patients must feel completely secure that their treatment is private if they are to open up, embrace, and benefit from the experience.

Some patients will find their treatment to be so completely life changing that they will want to share their story with the world in the hopes of helping other people who are struggling with the same issues. If this is the case, it is completely acceptable to allow a patient to be an inspiration to others in his or her community by accepting their testimonial.

Occasionally, a patient will go far beyond a testimonial and now more than ever, we can see many addiction recovery sites featuring blogs dedicated to patients who will tell their stories voluntarily. When used in an ethical way that respects the rights and privacy of the patient, stories like these can encourage others to seek the treatment they so desperately need.

Ethical protocols for marketing within the drug treatment industry ultimately comes down to trust. Many people who are in therapeutic situations have extensive issues revolving around trust. Any actions which could negatively impact the ability of the patient to trust his or her treatment process facilitators would be detrimental to the recovery process. When implementing the marketing strategies necessary to bring clients into treatment, care must be given that every aspect of the process is beyond reproach.

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About the Author

Lucinda Watrous

Lucinda Watrous is a freelance writer and web designer nestled in the mountains of western North Carolina. She's a tech geek, foodie, and research junkie. She writes about a little bit of everything.

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