By MATT BLOIS
The Brentwood based addiction treatment company American Addiction Centers has accused a trade organization of defaming the business and pressuring tech companies to exclude them from online advertising.
In a complaint filed in federal court on Tuesday by AAC, the company criticized the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers for disparaging the company in talks with Google.
AAC also accused the trade association of lying to Congress about the company’s advertising practices, and excluding AAC from organizational membership.
The conflict between the AAC and the trade organization stems from one of the ways that AAC finds new patients.
A 1-800 number listed on each website connects users with an AAC employee to discuss treatment options. According to a disclaimer on the websites, the representatives will discuss whether an AAC facility may be an option.
If patients don’t want to go to an AAC treatment center, the disclaimer says patients can find direct contact info for another facility through the directory.
In the lawsuit, AAC acknowledges there are some disreputable companies that operate directories that look similar to AAC’s websites. However, the company pointed out that those companies are paid to direct customers to certain facilities. AAC says it has never done that.
AAC’s websites include the company’s name at the top of each website, and call center employees tell potential patients they work for AAC. On a new AAC website — titled “The Truth About AAC” — the company also says it doesn’t sell patient information.
As disreputable addiction treatment websites proliferated, NAATP tried to crack down. The organization’s code of ethics now prohibits companies from operating directories, which is why AAC is no longer a member.
In the new lawsuit, AAC claims that NAATP rewrote its ethics code to specifically exclude AAC from membership.
AAC filed the lawsuit during NAATP’s annual conference in Washington D.C. Officials from the organization were not available to respond to questions about the lawsuit before publication.
In the lawsuit, AAC also accuses NAATP of disparaging the company’s marketing practices to tech companies like Google.
In late 2017, Google temporarily banned advertising for all addiction treatment facilities because of the rise in deceptive marketing practices in the industry.
In April 2018, Google decided to partner with the Oregon company LegitScript to vet advertisements from addiction treatment companies.
According to the lawsuit, NAATP’s executive director Marvin Ventrell told LegitScript’s CEO John Horton that AAC’s websites were deceptive and that the company should be excluded from Google’s advertising.
In the lawsuit, AAC claims NAATP criticized the company’s marketing practices because NAATP members didn’t want to compete with AAC.
In addition, AAC also accused the trade association of telling members of Congress that the company was emblematic of the dishonest marketing plaguing the addiction treatment industry.
In its lawsuit, AAC portrayed all of this tension as a fight between for-profit and non-profit addiction treatment centers. AAC is a public, for-profit company, but AAC says the NAATP board of directors represented mostly non-profit organizations.
“A key to NAATP’s strategy has been to taint the reputations of Recovery Brands and AAC by falsely and maliciously describing these innovative entities as part of the wave of “for profit bad guys” that are destroying the addiction treatment industry by seeking to profit from recovery,” the company wrote in the lawsuit.
AAC argued in the lawsuit that its directories are not deceptive and act as a critical resource because many people start their search for treatment online.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee. A case management conference is scheduled for July 2.