“Brandon’s Law” Now Law: Effort to Ban Deceptive Marketing in Rehab Industry Clears Last Hurdle

Friday, October 1, 2021

Senator Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) announced today that the Governor has approved legislation she authored called “Brandon’s Law” (Senate Bill 434). This law will take effect on January 1, 2022, and prohibits an operator of rehabilitation treatment facilities from providing any form of false advertising or marketing services. Senator Bates named the bill after Brandon Nelson, who passed away in 2018 at age 26 in an unlicensed rehab home.

“Today is a bittersweet victory for Brandon Nelson’s parents as the fight to pass ‘Brandon’s Law’ has taken almost three long years,” said Senator Bates, a former social worker who worked in communities affected by drug addiction. “SB 434 will help stop the exploitation of vulnerable people seeking addiction treatment. I thank Allen and Rose Nelson, my legislative colleagues from both parties, and stakeholders for their support. Last, but not least, I thank the journalists who worked on the ‘Rehab Riviera’ project for their in-depth reporting on Southern California’s drug treatment industry. Their work informed my efforts to reform the industry.”

Allen and Rose Nelson (Brandon’s parents) said, “We appreciate Senator Bates authoring SB 434. After Brandon’s passing, we heard from many vulnerable people who were seeking help with their mental health and addiction problems only to be exploited by rogue for-profit treatment centers looking to profit from their misery. We were promised professional mental health services for Brandon, none of which were delivered. Brandon, had he lived, would enthusiastically support SB 434 as an important tool to help root out the deceit that is all too common in the for-profit recovery ‘industry’ and as a law that will save lives.”

SB 434 prohibits an operator of a licensed residential treatment facility or a certified alcohol or other drug program from providing any form of false advertising or marketing services, including making a false or misleading statement about the entity’s products, goods, services, or geographical locations. The bill authorizes the California Department of Health Care Services to investigate allegations of misconduct and impose sanctions.

Senator Bates authored SB 434 due in part to a comprehensive investigation by the Southern California News Group (SCNG) that found California’s hands-off approach to regulating the industry makes it easy for dishonest operators to take advantage of vulnerable individuals. According to the SCNG, they “found that destitute and homeless addicts can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to unscrupulous rehab centers, where those addicts often are bought, sold and exploited for their insurance payments.”

Brandon’s parents signed him up for care at a rehab home and were assured by operators that he would receive therapy sessions, a case manager, a house manager, and more. Unfortunately, that is not what he received. According to the SCNG: “Nelson didn’t have a team of professionals overseeing his transition — he apparently didn’t even get his medications on time, according to his parents and police reports. What they got were sales pitches, not health-care advice, the Nelsons concluded.”

The goal of SB 434 is to protect individuals with addiction and ensure that they are receiving the treatment they are expecting. SB 434 was the third attempt by Senator Bates to pass “Brandon’s Law.” In 2019, the Governor vetoed SB 589 despite earning unanimous support in the Legislature. In 2020, the Legislature’s focus on addressing the COVID-19 pandemic forced Senator Bates to shelve SB 863.

SB 434 is co-authored by Senator Brian Jones (R-Santee) and Assemblymembers James Gallagher (R-Yuba), Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), Devon Mathis (R-Visalia), Jim Patterson (R-Fresno), and Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach).