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Unlicensed rehab clinics may have contributed to 45 deaths

There's a troubling story just in from California. Several unlicensed rehabilitation clinics serving the Spanish-language community are accused of using dangerous treatment methods. The clinics claimed to be affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous but did not use the methods designed by that group. Some 45 people have died and at least two of those deaths have already been ruled homicides.

Although the events took place in California, something like this could easily occur in Arizona or in any state. Unfortunately, deaths associated with unlicensed clinics are rising in California. The Los Angeles Coroner's Office found 35 such deaths between 2003 and 2014, and another 11 since 2014. Arizona authorities also work to root out unlicensed operators.

Lack of a license doesn't change the tragic outcome of dangerous medical practices. An injury or wrongful death at an unlicensed facility may be handled slightly differently under the law than it would at a licensed medical facility, but the victims still have full rights to compensation for their pain and losses.

The allegations are stark. According to a lawsuit brought by the California Department of Health Care Services, businesses associated with Corriente California used a variety of dangerous or even life-threatening methods to treat people for alcohol or drug addiction, including:

  • Denying patients water during a three-day-long detoxification
  • Treating seizures with a padded spoon and folk remedies rather than seeking medical treatment
  • Chasing down and hog-tying patients who attempt to leave

"These are just a few of the extremely dangerous and life-threatening practices defendants are implementing under the guise of A.A. that need to be enjoined," the department says.

The department also said the facilities -- including bathrooms -- were "makeshift" and that some detox rooms were "filthy and smelled of urine." One patient seen by department investigators had rope burns from being hog-tied. Police were called at another clinic when staff tried to drag an unwilling patient back into the facility.

Corriente, 24 individuals and five associated business entities are the targets of the lawsuit, which seeks to shut down all of the facilities and enjoin the defendants from operating again. The lawsuit also seeks to fine the defendants $200 per day if they run similar facilities after being ordered to shut down.

The reason for the fines is that these defendants have been caught doing this before. According to the department, a 2015 lawsuit tried to shut down similar clinics targeting Latinos. Instead of following the injunction, Corriente and other groups simply relocated, renamed or recreated their unlicensed clinics and continued operations.

These groups are not affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous. In fact, it is a basic principle of its operation that AA is not affiliated with any outside institution.

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