But her patients who tried to use it often hit a wall, Poland said. They’d call a number only to find it disconnected, or they’d learn that a facility wasn’t accepting new patients, or that the clinician had retired or moved.
“It’s being treated as a gold-standard tool, but it’s not,” Poland said.
FindTreatment.gov is the first link that comes up on Google searches for rehab, he said. According to SAMHSA, a branch of the US Department of Health and Human Services, it receives nearly 300,000 page views a month. It’s the tool many state and local helplines use when trying to connect someone to treatment.
“It’s crucial to get this right,” Stoltman said.
SAMHSA spokesperson Christopher Garrett said in a statement that the agency “endeavors to keep the [tools] current.” If SAMHSA is informed of outdated information — such as an incorrect address, telephone number, or type of service offered — “we act upon that information,” he wrote. Such updates are made weekly.
In addition, SAMHSA surveys facilities yearly, using the responses to update FindTreatment.gov, Garrett wrote.
“There’s going to be a limit to its value if everywhere basically has a waiting list,” Stein said.
But others say fixing the flaws is central to the nation’s response to addiction.
He said treatment locators not only need to maintain accurate information, but also should alter their models to allow people to do everything in one place: learn about addiction, research treatment providers, and enroll in care seamlessly.
Perhaps the biggest improvement clinicians and public health experts want to see on FindTreatment.gov is an indicator of a facility’s quality. Currently, users can filter by type of treatment — detox, inpatient, outpatient — and whether a facility offers medications for opioid use disorder. But the site does not indicate which types of care are more likely to be successful — even though the federal government funds research on that subject. SAMHSA has a minimal vetting process for the facilities displayed, requiring only that they complete a survey and be licensed in their state.
Garrett, the SAMHSA spokesperson, said in the statement to KHN that the agency trusts state health departments and other accrediting bodies to address subpar facilities. The statement also said decisions about treatment should ideally be made between patients and their physicians.
Other private and public treatment locator tools have popped up to fill in some of the gaps on FindTreatment.gov, though experts say they have their own shortcomings.
Patient advocates hope the platform will guide people to more effective care and encourage facilities to improve their practices. But they also worry about the organization’s ability to go national and sustain a multimillion-dollar project.
In Ohio, one family took on the job of creating a treatment locator for the state.
Bill Ayars lost his 28-year-old daughter, Jennifer, to a drug overdose in 2016. At the time, FindTreatment.gov didn’t exist. Ayars simply had a notebook in which the family had written names of facilities they’d called to get Jennifer help. He wanted to give other families a better place to start.
In 2017, along with his then-fiancée, younger daughter, and a few hired staff members, Ayars launched a treatment locator site. It eventually listed 1,200 addiction treatment providers across Ohio and garnered more than 200,000 visitors. It was featured on the state mental health and addiction agency’s website, printed on the discharge papers of a major hospital system, and listed on flyers distributed by syringe service programs.
“We felt very good that we filled a gap,” said Ayars, of Cleveland.
But it was a significant lift. Ayars’ fiancée and staffers often spent 12 hours a day calling facilities and updating their information every six months. The project cost more than $100,000 a year, he said.
It’s for families like Ayars’ that it’s crucial to improve FindTreatment.gov, experts say.
“People who are seeking help deserve to find immediate help,” said Jones in North Carolina. “Having a national treatment locator that is up to date and easily searchable is a first step in that recovery journey.”
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.