The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation says in a lawsuit filed this month that outside websites are infringing on trademarks and misleading consumers by listing the addiction treatment center’s name alongside phone numbers that have no connection to Hazelden.
Callers, in turn, are directed to other treatment centers for care, thereby creating confusion and raising the potential for harm, said Mark Mishek, chief executive at Hazelden, which is based in Center City.
For years, Hazelden and the Betty Ford Center have quietly fought back against businesses that try to draw patients by using a variant of the treatment centers’ names, Mishek said. But he said there seems to be a growing volume of problems stemming from outside websites that seem to be trying to confuse consumers.
“We’re getting a consistent stream of stories now from families and patients,” said Mishek, who used the term “phony directory tactic” to describe the problem. “We felt it was really important that we start to get public about this.”
The lawsuit filed Aug. 14 named three defendants: Freedom Healthcare of America LLC, of Tennessee; Addiction Enders of Ontario, Canada; and an individual in Ontario.
The Canadian defendants could not immediately be reached for comment. A spokesman for Freedom Healthcare of America, which runs a website called Addiction Campuses, said the company takes the accusations “very seriously.”
“We have reached out to Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation CEO and President Mark Mishek’s office about the matter and are in communication with their team,” the company said Thursday in a statement.
The lawsuit describes one example of how a patient seeking substance use disorder treatment options was trying to search for Hazelden but wound up on one of Freedom Healthcare of America’s webpages. The person then was misled, the lawsuit says, into contacting one of the defendant’s phone numbers for “Hazelden,” rather than actually contacting the Minnesota-based nonprofit.
Hazelden believes the patient ultimately was directed to a treatment center in Massachusetts that’s owned and/or affiliated with the defendant.
While the lawsuit names three defendants, Hazelden said there are other websites that create similar problems. In some cases, consumers might be able to find fine print that explains the website is run by an entity other than Hazelden, Mishek said, but many who call do so in a moment of crisis when such details are easily missed.
“They see our picture. They see a big phone number underneath it,” Mishek said. “That’s the deceptive nature of it. We call it the ‘phony directory tactic.’ ”
The lawsuit alleges false advertising, trademark infringement and deceptive trademarks. Hazelden wants to see its name removed from the websites, Mishek said, while also alerting consumers to the problem.