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Debit card helps addicts stay sober

By Claes Bell ·
Monday, September 10, 2012
Posted: 11 am ET

Seems like you can't swing a cat without hitting a new prepaid debit card these days. But one new entry into the crowded market, called the Next Step Card, has a very specific clientele in mind: recovering addicts.

In some ways, the card is just like any other prepaid debit card. Family members and others load money on the card, which can then be used at any business that accepts MasterCard.

A new prepaid card for recovering addicts can't be used at bars, strip clubs or liquor stores.

A new prepaid card for recovering addicts can't be used at bars, strip clubs or liquor stores. (Photo by Elvissa.)

But unlike other cards, the Next Step Card has special controls built in that will cause it to be declined at places dangerous to those trying to kick an alcohol or drug addiction, such as bars, casinos and liquor stores. To prevent users from circumventing the controls, they also won't be able to receive cash back with purchases or withdraw cash from ATMs. Cardholders can also set up daily transaction limits and text alerts that notify them if the user tries to make a purchase at an unauthorized business.

According to Ben Wolford of the Sun Sentinel, the cost will be $9.95 to activate the card and $14.95 a month to keep it activated.

That may sound pretty pricey, but it's a relative bargain when you consider the time and resources put into getting former addicts back on their feet, says Michael Gordon, executive director of Sunset House, a nonprofit halfway house in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

"We monitor what they're spending. So the amount of time that we put into that, I see the $15 fee as being very reasonable," Gordon says. "People go to (the Hanley Center) and do a month or 60 days there, and then they come to us for probably six months after. So we transition them back into getting a job, going back to school, and into those daily living skills. And budgeting is one of those big things that we try to work on with the guys."

Gordon says having a card that allows easy monitoring could be a helpful tool for family members and halfway houses providing guidance during those crucial first months out of addiction treatment.

Still, while he sees the restrictions on where you can use the card as a possible benefit, it won't be a silver bullet for avoiding relapses.

"Ultimately, somebody would be able to possibly go and buy something and trade it for drugs or alcohol. If they want to get it, they're going to get it," he says. "But it's a good step in the right direction for holding somebody accountable."

What do you think? Is a special prepaid debit card for addicts a good idea?

Follow me on Twitter: @ClaesBell.

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Phil Z
September 12, 2012 at 7:02 am

This is a tool to help those who want to be helped. To help eliminate the temptation. This is not a rehab or a cure all. This is for those who are continuing on their journey to recovery. This is for those who have already hit bottom and are on their way back up.

September 12, 2012 at 6:57 am

this might be a wonderful thing for Credit Card addicts.? My husband got himself in debt that almost busted us.

Michael R.
September 12, 2012 at 5:13 am

@ Mikey

Like Stuart Buchman commented, "Banks are in the finance and loan business not the rehab business."

First of all, I'm not a liberal and I have no problem with anyone coming up with good ideas to make money especially in this economy.

I just believe that it is a bad idea to profit and rationalize about it when what is really at stake is a life or death situation due to drug addiction or alcoholism and that is not a joke, period.

September 12, 2012 at 3:43 am


God forbid someone comes up with a idea and posssible makes some money with it in America!you libs are a joke!!!

Stuart S. Buchman
September 12, 2012 at 3:03 am

It's a good idea, but they will find a way around the system. And they always do, all they have to do is use cash from another source, e,g. a loan from friends (who have no knowledge of his/her alcohol or drug habit) colleagues from work or some other way to "beat the system". In reality, it is not the bank's job to help such people with these societal issues. There are many recovery programs such as 12-step programs or rehabilitation programs. Most companies have an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) to help such individuals to recover and return to work. Banks are in the finance and loan business not the rehab business.

September 12, 2012 at 1:53 am

@ Micheal R. (applaud) Will the profits be donated to a reputable charity? Hmmm.

Kathy Farrell
September 12, 2012 at 12:53 am

Micheal R. I so agree with you! Also, Thank God for program for adult children of addicts. Even though I Have not attended for years, it so helped me during mt teenage yrs!

Kathy Farrell
September 12, 2012 at 12:17 am

I agree and disagree at the same time.I agree with the food, however they can purchase a 24 oz. beer for $2.00. I know this as a 42 yr. old daughter of an alcoholic. Addiction is is a disease, it kills just like cancer.My mother died of lung cancer 1n 2003 at the age of 55, ( smoker ) have not seen my father in 28 years.What is so ironic is even though my mom smoked, I never saw her have any alcohol, ever. My earliest memories of my father were that I was always afraid of him.Its called a hangover,with a small child in your care.Very frightening to a little girl. I also had a little brother to protect.I hope my biological father get the help he needs.

Michael R.
September 12, 2012 at 12:08 am

Instead of having a debit card to help the addict stay clean or the alcoholic stay sober, how about realizing that the only thing you can control is yourself. You can't control another person's addiction.

When this individual has hit bottom and is ready to surrender, then the individual will work the steps necessary to have that obsession removed by a power greater than themselves, and stay spiritual fit on a daily basis where the obesession will continue to not exist.

He or she then can have a life with no limits or restrictions including a real bank account with no fees.

This is just another example of "rehab discovery", not recovery that is making a profit off of mentally, physically and spritually sick individuals.

Shame on Michael Gordon, Executive Director of Sunset House and his "nonprofit halfway house" who is rationalizing to profit for himself and others.

Come on Michael, you know how addicts and alcoholics get and stay clean and sober and it is not with the Next Step card.

Davi W-D
September 10, 2012 at 10:31 pm

Not likely to even slow them down.

The same places that will convert food stamps and EBT cards into cash at 50 cents on the dollar will immediately gear up to do the same for these cards.

The only way to make sure an addict of alcoholic doesn't game the system is to not give them more than 5$ at a time. If they smoke, buy them rolling papers and cut tobaco. If they say they are humgery, buy them ready to eat food. If they have some bill to pay,, pay it direct.

Maybe when they have tested clean/sober for a year and have a job,, then relax the control with a restricted debit card. Some banks will set these up with far lower fees.