Google set to reinstate ads for rehab centers after an expose showed scammers were targeting vulnerable people

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Google is to reinstate adverts for drug and alcohol treatment centers on its U.S. search engine from July, after it suspended ads for such facilities.

In September 2017, tech website The Verge published an expose on how vulnerable people were targeted by ads on search engines for treatment centers that were scams. "The companies are united by their dependence on Google, some of them spending huge sums on ads to show up in the searches of desperate people with the right insurance," its article stated.

Soon, the search giant will allow advertising for substance abuse treatment to appear on results pages — but only when they are first assessed by LegitScript, a company that checks the validity of internet pharmacies, supplement sellers and other online merchants.

Substance misuse is a big problem in the U.S., with 64,000 Americans dying of drug overdoses in 2016 and President Donald Trump calling the country's opioid crisis a "public health emergency." U.S. advertisers offering treatment will now need to go to LegitScript and apply to be certified before they can advertise through AdWords, Google said in an update to its ad policies this week. Adverts for addiction services are currently not allowed outside the U.S.

Google will start blocking annoying ads in its Chrome browser
Google will start blocking annoying ads in its Chrome browser

"We work to help health care providers — from doctors to hospitals and treatment centers — get online and connect with people who need their help. Substance abuse is a growing crisis and has led to deceptive practices by bad actors," Google's Senior Director of Global Product Policy David Graff said in a statement emailed to CNBC.

"This is a complex issue but we believe our partnership with LegitScript is a great first step in the U.S. to help better connect people with the treatment they need," he added.

The new U.S. rules will apply to ads for rehab centers, addiction services and crisis hotlines for drug and alcohol addiction. Once an advertiser is certified with LegitScript, it will then have to also be certified by Google.

LegitScript president and founder John Horton said his company only expects to certify about 20 to 30 such providers during the first three months of its program so it can get the process right, according to a statement on its website.

"Some opportunistic addiction treatment providers have been cashing in on patients' recovery efforts and insurance billing opportunities. The worst of these have not only failed to provide treatment, but have encouraged ongoing drug abuse in patients trying to break the habit," Horton wrote.

"We hope that our program will help provide patients and our partners (like Google) information about which programs provide genuine treatment and which are, in essence, scams."

Google made $27.27 billion in revenue from advertising in the fourth quarter of 2017. Ads for drug and alcohol addiction treatments make around $78 million a year, according to a Reuters report.