In an unprecedented move in the addiction treatment industry, a major treatment organization has launched a broad-based consumer-focused website that founders envision becoming a WebMD-like resource for individuals and families researching addiction and recovery topics. Elements Behavioral Health rolled out Addiction.com in February, although Elements' own visibility on the site is limited to the “About Us” statement of ownership.
“We're looking at establishing a world view, versus a treatment center's view,” says Vera Appleyard, Elements' chief Internet and media officer. She adds, “We knew we weren't going to list our rehabs on it.”
While many treatment centers' own websites feature educational information, usually provided by members of their own in-house staff, organizers of Addiction.com are seeking to pull in a much wider universe of experts to comment and educate on a broad range of subjects. Full-time editor Lorie Parch says she wants the site to feature at least a couple of expert bloggers for each addiction addressed in the overall content. She adds that the site will cover a wide diversity of addictions, even in areas where applying the concept of addiction remains in dispute (such as exercise and work).
Parch, who has worked in health journalism since the mid-1990s, is one of a team of four full-time staffers that also includes two writers and a web designer. While she says the site cannot be considered purely a journalistic play because of Elements' ownership, she is largely being left to her own devices to shape content. “Right now we're sort of filling in holes,” she says of the early weeks of activity.
Some of the more prominent treatment facility names in Elements' growing family of centers are Clarity Way in Pennsylvania, Lucida Treatment Center in Florida, The Ranch in Tennessee and Promises Malibu in California.
Appleyard says she had thought for some time about the idea of creating an all-encompassing site for people searching addiction treatment and recovery topics. She discovered that the domain name Addiction.com could be available. “It was owned by one of the people who bought a number of domain names years ago and sat on the names,” she says.
She would not disclose what Elements paid to acquire the domain name, but terms the price “very expensive.” She adds that the organization considered the expense part of a long-term capital investment, and says Elements president and CEO David Sack, MD, liked the idea of creating a forum that would differ from the approach of a typical company website.
Parch says she sees three primary audience segments at this point: people in recovery, people who may believe they need treatment for an addiction, and the loved ones of that second group. She believes that the site will target clinicians at some point down the road as well.
It is also contemplated that advertising opportunities will be made available to outside entities. But at this point, house ads constitute the only advertising on the site; one ad promotes Elements' newly introduced recovery app for alumni and others in recovery.
The heading on Addiction.com's home page reads “Stop searching. Start recovering.” The article topics are diverse; some of the highlighted features this week are “Why Alcohol Treatment Should Be Sugar-Free,” “When Addiction Steals Your Identity: The Role of Honesty,” and “When You Are Not Forgiven.” The site includes a national directory of therapists.
Appleyard says the site is using humor in some of its posts, including through video. “Maybe we can push the edge; we want to get them talking,” she says of visitors. Appleyard and Parch have a clear goal of creating an active community of visitors who will comment on posts and engage in dialogue.
They also do not intend to shy away from controversial topics, having already posted a debate on the effects of marijuana legalization. They do not consider many topics to be inherently off-limits, although they do acknowledge some strongly held views that are in keeping with Elements' perspective (such as a belief in the concept of sex addiction, a construct that some other treatment professionals question).
Also, says Appleyard, “Even if we give alternative points of view, we don't want to disrespect any one form of treatment over another.”