One of the largest addiction treatment companies in the country is on the hook for millions of dollars after a jury found it partly liable for the death of a California man.
Shaun Reyna killed himself less than a day after checking into a treatment facility in Murrieta.
“Shaun Reyna is a good man,” said attorney Jude Basile.
In an interview with 10News, Basile said Reyna was losing his eyesight after 20 years working in a factory. He eventually lost his job, and depression led to drinking and self-medication.
Reyna and his family decided treatment was the best option.
He ended up going to a spot called A Better Tomorrow in Murrieta, which is part of the parent company American Addiction Centers. The location was more than 300 miles from his home in Atwater.
Basile said less than a day after Reyna was admitted, "He was found dead due to self-inflicted cuts and bled to death."
In February, a jury awarded the family a $7 million verdict against American Addiction Centers and other defendants. The jury found them negligent.
Court documents claimed “Decedent should have never of been admitted into ABTTC (A Better Tomorrow Treatment Center) DEFENDANTS program, and instead should have been referred to a facility/program that could provide the level of services he needed. ABTTC DEFENDANTS admitted Decedent Shaun Reyna knowing they could not provide the level of service he needed. They did so out of pure greed, putting profit ahead of patient safety.”
According to a news release from the law firm representing the Reyna family, evidence revealed a call center that was staffed by people with little to no experience in addiction screening.
"When they called the call center they would be met with folks at the intake call center that were being paid on commission, that had quotas, and whose job was simply to sell, not to properly screen, but to sell,” said Reyna family attorney Jeremiah Lowe.
In one of the recorded calls between Reyna and a treatment center representative you can hear the desperation in Reyna's voice.
“Yeah, I have to do something," Reyna said. “Because I can't -- I feel like I can't hold on any longer.” A representative on the other end told him he understood. “I get it. We're reaching crisis mode, and if -- you need to get into a safe environment.”
An addiction specialist who testified as an expert for the Reyna family told 10News the first thing the treatment center should have done was referred Reyna to a higher level of care than they were providing.
"The complications that can result if it’s not treated properly are seizures, strokes, hallucinations, confusion and things like what happened in this case with depression and suicide and they also required very close observation,” said Dr. Michel Sucher.
The head of American Addiction Centers, Michael Cartwright, spoke to Team 10 investigator Adam Racusin by phone.
Cartwright said he disagrees with the verdict. He believes Reyna's treatment location was appropriate. A spokesperson for American Addiction Centers directed 10News to a Yahoo Finance article on the technological advancements being implemented in its treatment centers.
While Reyna's case is extreme, it's not the first time the company has faced criticism.
10News’ sister station in Tampa, Fla., exposed questionable practices with the company's River Oaks Treatment facility. WFTS reported the facility's “former transportation director Mike Isom says staff was often unprepared to deal with mental health issues."
Crisis in California
According to the California Opioid Overdose Surveillance Dashboard, 2,031 people died of an opioid overdose in 2016 in California. Of those deaths, 251 occurred in San Diego County.
With the opioid epidemic reaching crisis level, addiction treatment centers are in high demand.
However, in California, there's concern the lack of supply to meet that demand has allowed for some to take advantage of people in need.
According to information provided by the California Department of Health Care Services , in the 2016-17 fiscal year, there were 540 complaints against addiction treatment centers statewide. That's up from years past.
There were also 36 people who died while participating in addiction rehab facilities statewide in 2017-18.
Experts tell 10News there are also more people checking in to treatment facilities.
"When you look at that compared to the 300 plus thousand people who were treated in those facilities you see that is drastically lower than one percent and I will stack up our industry's results with any hospital system in California,” said Stampp Corbin with the Addiction Treatment Advocacy Coalition.
Corbin said there are more than 1,700 treatment facilities in California.
He told 10News that because there is an opioid crisis, people need access to treatment and the vast majority of facilities are helping people and saving lives.
Corbin said, just as you would check your doctor's qualifications, potential patients should ask for the information about who will be providing their treatment. He suggests asking what the treatment process is and for people to check with the California Department of Health Care Services, which tracks any adverse incident.
"I don't think people should be worried about treatment centers any more than they are worried about hospital systems,” Corbin said.
Reyna’s attorney believes the treatment center industry is needed, but needs better enforcement.
"We have good regulations that if they are enforced would clean up a lot of the industry,” Lowe said. ‘The problem is right now those regulations aren't being effectively enforced."