Preying Not Praying –
May 21, 2018 – When Laurie Couch first joined the Affected by Addiction Support Group, a closed Facebook group with 70,000 members, she felt a sense of belonging. Here were people who understood her struggle to care for a son addicted to drugs, and they were there to support her, any time of the day or night. She began regularly responding to people who were dealing with cravings and comforting parents devastated by their children’s addictions. Private addiction support groups are abundant on Facebook, and Affected by Addiction is one of the most high-profile. Last June, the group’s owner Matt Mendoza spoke at the Facebook Communities Summit, where Mark Zuckerberg unveiled his plan to get a total of 1 billion people into “meaningful groups.” In July, Zuckerberg posted a glowing review of the support group on his Facebook page. The group was profiled by Good Morning America in February, sparking a flood of new members. In the segment, Mendoza told the hosts that “there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of people that have gotten treatment as a result of this community.” He didn’t expand on the process.
In March, Couch’s son almost overdosed. They live together in rural Kansas, where she doesn’t have access to much in-person support, which is part of what made Affected by Addiction attractive to begin with. In the wake of his near-overdose, she reached out to the group for comfort and encouragement while she panicked and figured out what to do. Marketers from the treatment center had to approve every post in the group, which gave them the first opportunity to privately message good candidates for their rehab and try to talk them into going to Windward in California. They needed that edge, Mendoza explained to me a few weeks ago, because they knew a Facebook group that big would be full of other marketers, waiting to swoop in as soon as a juicy message was public. A Facebook group that big would be full of other marketers. Initially, after my article ran in November, Mendoza put up a disclaimer about the relationship with Windward Way. Then they broke ties entirely. At the end of March this year, Affected by Addiction added a set of rules, including: “One of the common marketing scams used by unethical treatment centers is to PM people within support groups like these in an attempt to get a client to their treatment center, without any care for clinical assessment, for that reason . . . No recommendations of treatment centers, treatment programs, or other treatment options are allowed either publicly or privately between group members. If you are contacted privately by someone offering a place of treatment, you are required to immediately contact at least two moderators or admins.”