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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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Tracy Gibson
September 12, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Sorry! But lets keep it real,what addict will keep this kind of card with those kind of monthly fee's. Think about it! when your using its by all/any means necesary to get and sustain your high. I have used many avenue's of manipulation to get high. This is not a obstacle that will hinder my usage. Not even that functional addict that I am, will maintain this kind of card. Why would I? The bank gets the money and I cant keep my High? guess who's wins. I do! because this option wont work,remember the key words is Addict. To thy own self be true. This is just another way to for banks to make money,this has not to do with hindering or sobering up an addict.

September 12, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Great idea and hopefully it will work as well as it is being explained. It appears that most people that have commented don't have a problem handing cash or a check to their relative. I do. We all know that handing cash to a recovering addict is like leaving a cookie jar open in a preschool classroom with no supervision, but instructions for nobody to touch. It can't and shouldn't be done. I think this is a great step to building trust again for parents and their recovering children/adults. I disagree with the comments above and will recommend this card. Building a level of mutual trust is critical and it sounds like this card will do that. With that respect, if it does what the article explains, we all know that its work every penny. Good job in getting this into the community. You have a supporter!

The French Corder
September 12, 2012 at 11:38 am

Where there is a will, there is a way. Unfortunately, if people want something badly enough, they will find a way to get it with or without your help, consent or knowledge. This idea would only work in a very controlled abd constantly monitored environment, in which case you would not need a card like this anyway!

September 12, 2012 at 11:13 am

So you cant go to a grocery store? Grocery stores carry alcohol.

September 12, 2012 at 11:13 am

I can see a greater benefit in using this system for EBT/Food Stamp Fraud. Declining cash disbursements at casinos, bars or liquor stores. It would be helpful if there was a way to prevent the EBT cards from authorizing snack and junk food purchases. Sadly I see way too much of this type of thing standing in line at the grocery store..

September 12, 2012 at 10:58 am

As a recovering alcoholic and the mother of a recovering addict, I see the only upsides to this card as being the bank getting the money and the company getting the monthly fee. What a waste of money! As "The concerned mother of an IV heroin addict" pointed out, addicts are incredibly cunning and manipulative. As they say, if an alcoholic steals money from you, they'll lie about it. If an addict steals from you, not only will they lie about it, they'll help you to look for it. My son had me convinced that all the money missing from my bank account was an "inside job" and I almost sued my bank. Incredible. Bars and liquor stores are by far not the only places to get liquor. And how do you monitor the drug dealer??? C'mon, get real. This is so ineffective, it's laughable. It's just another scam preying on the emotions of parents of addicts everywhere. I tried only letting my son use a credit card and never letting him have access to cash also. He repeatedly bought goods at places like K-Mart and sold them for half the price to drug dealers and others. He got a slap on the wrist for doing so. I feel bad for those so naive that they would actually consider it. Addicts can only recover when they are willing to change. Forcing my son to have absolutely NO access to money, NO access to shelter, NO access to anything of mine or anyone else forced him to change. At the very end, he was scared of dying and did what it took to change: 12-step meetings, detox, and rehab.

September 12, 2012 at 10:28 am

I think this is a good idea but only in certain contexts. Is it going to rehabilitate an addict? Of course not and it would be stupid to think so. An addict will ALWAYS get their fix or drink by any means possible. So by that regard this card would be useless. I do however think it could be very useful to anyone that is recovering and needs help maintaining sobriety. Addiction is a life long thing and many recovering addicts want to be clean and try their hardest but find it anywhere from very hard to impossible to do so. There is always temptation (that "I know I shouldn't but I am going to anyway") and this may help to curb those impulses. Anything that could help is worthwhile in my opinion.

Concerned Parent of Addict
September 12, 2012 at 9:39 am

As the mother of an intraveous heroine addict (currently in recovery with 9 months clean, but forever an addict), I can tell you $14.95 is BIG waste of money. Addicts are the MOST resourceful, intelligent, creative, motivated and determined people in ONE area...obtaining their next fix or drink. Something as silly and one-dimensional as not allowing use at certain types of establishments is easily skirted. Believe me, the methods my daughter used to get $ off a credit card that I was closely monitoring were ingenious. The things she has shared with me during recovery blew my mind. This card is a marketing ploy designed to snag desperate loved ones willing to shell out whatever it takes to help save the addict. Or worse yet, gives the addict an excuse to put responsibility on someone else's shoulders. It fills the bank's pockets, giving the user access to $, and giving the loved-one a dangerous, false sense of security. Until the addict wants to get clean, they won't. Guaranteed. And once they want to, they don't need a security checkpoint like this. In the addict's mind, that puts the responsibility on the card and off their shoulders. Bad move. Sorry, I could go on and on. I think this is a horrible idea, and detrimental to recovery success.

September 12, 2012 at 8:42 am

Heh, what about parents sending their kids off to college? Instead of sending money each month for expenses, let them use the prepaid card--but no bars etc. I like it.

Problem is, of couse, most kids will not have one, and friends share beer even faster than they share germs. Good idea, but probably would not work. :(

September 12, 2012 at 8:26 am

I completely agree with this idea. It's a great way to help monitor alcoholics or addicts. The one big thing her, though, is that it is an option. Whoever wants to get one of these cards can and whoever doesn't won't. So what, they find their way around it: that's their decision. Either way, the bank issuing the card still gets money, and if the alcoholic or addict chooses not to want it any more, they cut it up, throw it away, and be done with it. I can only see an upside to this. I think it is a great solution to an important problem.