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Drug-treatment centers moving out of Palm Beach County, officials say

Treatment Centers in Palm Beach that participate in unethical and illegal business practices, are packing up and leaving in an effort to avoid legal issues.

By: Brooke Baitinger and Ryan Van VelzerContact Reporters
Source: Sun Sentinel

Drug-recovery businesses are moving to other parts of Florida as a crackdown in Palm Beach County leads to dozens of arrests, prosecutors say.

“What we’re seeing is a lot of these unscrupulous places are packing up and moving elsewhere, which may be good for Palm Beach County, but we’re all in this together,” said Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg, who leads the county’s Sober Homes Task Force.

Providers are moving as far away as Arizona and California, but also elsewhere within the state, including the Tampa Bay area, Aronberg said.

It’s likely that a steady stream of new, high-quality providers are stepping into Palm Beach County to fill the void left by those who were criminally charged, he said.
“You’re going to likely be a provider with an intent to do good as opposed to profiting off the misery of others,” he said.

Southeast Florida has seen a slight rise in the number of licenses issued to drug-treatment providers and sober-home operators over the past year, rising from 546 in 2016 to 570 in 2017, according to state records obtained by prosecutors.

Of a seven-county region in southeast Florida, Broward County saw the largest rise in drug-treatment licenses issued, rising from 115 to 132, the records show.

But state records don’t reflect whether drug-treatment businesses opening across Florida previously operated elsewhere.

Though state law enforcement agencies do not keep a database of where businesses relocate, authorities say they are finding out about relocations through their peers in the recovery industry.

Meanwhile, the state has some numbers demonstrating turnover in the industry, Aronberg said.

The licenses of 16 providers were suspended, and nearly 140 providers voluntarily gave up their licenses in Broward and Palm Beach Counties, as well as counties north of Palm Beach County in the Treasure Coast, records show.

Authorities in Broward say they hope crackdowns help do away with unscrupulous operators while leaving opportunities for upstanding businesses to thrive.

David Scharf, executive director of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office Department of Community Programs, said there are “many professional and tremendous treatment providers, sober-home operators and others in our community who provide valuable and much-needed treatment and services to this at-risk and vulnerable population.”

Armed with a $275,000 state appropriation, Aronberg last year began the Palm Beach County task force, which consists of prosecutors and police to study abuses in the industry and find solutions. The task force has gone on to pursue charges against many drug-treatment providers.

Of the 34 arrested by the task force over the past year — all from Broward and Palm Beach counties — 27 have faced charges related to “patient brokering.” Under Florida law, it is illegal for anyone to offer or pay any commission, kickback or bribe to promote the referral of patients to or from a health care provider.

“Coffee shops and local restaurants along the Delray Beach strip, are still known to be “hot spots” where patient brokers display their predatory tactics, which are encouraged by unethical treatment center operators.”

Prosecutors say they’ve found businesses that illegally pay for patients to be referred to them, and that then bill the patients’ insurers for pricey urine tests that they conducted several times per week.

The task force has become a pioneering force to combat the opioid epidemic — the first of its kind in the state, Aronberg said.

Prosecutors will meet with other counties and cities to detail Tuesday how there have been 34 arrests since January, of people accused of breaking the law while running drug-treatment centers. Of those, there have been 10 convictions.

Fifty-two prosecutors from across the state plan to attend the seminar, so they, too, can learn the best practices on investigating abuses in the drug-recovery industry.

“The reason why we are holding this training … is because the problem is moving to other communities,” Aronberg said.

Some drug-treatment providers and sober-home owners have moved just north to Martin County, or just south to Broward, said John Lehman, president of the Florida Association for Recovery Residences.

FARR is responsible for certifying sober homes that are operating up to national standards. Boynton Beach and Delray Beach recently started requiring new and existing sober homes to become FARR-certified.

“Southeast Florida is becoming the leader it once was in providing guidance to the rest of the country in how to do this well,” Lehman said.

FARR once declined to certify a Palm Beach County sober home that was moving to Broward, Lehman said.

The operator shouldn’t have advertised online that it would pay for flight tickets in exchange for residents attending treatment, Lehman said, citing it as an example of patient-brokering.

FARR denied the application, and it wasn’t the first time that has happened, Lehman said.

Multiple law-enforcement agencies are uniting to tackle abusive practices in the industry.

Over the summer in Broward, authorities held 82 people on drug charges as part of a dayslong sting called Operation Bad Dose. To try to curb opioid abuse, the Broward Sheriff’s Office has worked with other law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and medical providers.

Heather Davidson, the director of public policy and advocacy for the United Way of Broward County, said the community response team deals with drug epidemics, such as the 2015 outbreak of flakka, a drug that led people to exhibit delirium, paranoia and rage on South Florida streets.

The Broward County State Attorney’s Office has convened with the team and with law enforcement to work out how to address the epidemic from a criminal perspective, said Ron Ishoy, the spokesman.

The formal meetings are in their infancy, but prosecutors and law enforcement officers are interacting regularly about drug issues, he said.

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Melania Trump to visit drug treatment center for babies in West Virginia

Source: Washington Examiner

by Cailin Yilek | Oct 9,2017

First lady Melania Trump will make her first visit to a drug treatment center on Tuesday.

Trump plans to visit Lily’s Place, an infant recovery center in Huntington, W.Va., that treats babies who have been exposed to addictive substances while their mother was pregnant.

“To help babies born addicted truly succeed, we must help their parents succeed,” Trump’s spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham told CNN.

“The statistic that 40 percent of babies born addicted to drugs are put into foster care is one that Mrs. Trump would like to see lowered, and Lily’s Place was created with that in mind,” Grisham said. “They recognize that parents who are working hard to overcome addiction will encounter barriers and need support.”

Trump hosted a roundtable on the opioid crisis last month at the White House where she met with first responders, families, and treatment advocates to hear about their experiences.

“I’m here today to listen and learn from all of your stories and hope you will feel free to give me your thoughts and opinions on how best I can help,” Trump said.

Grisham said the first lady wants to help remove the stigma of drug use and recovery.

“People are ashamed or afraid to seek treatment. She believes people need to talk openly and teach our children the real dangers of drugs,” Grisham said.

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Margate Recovery Advocate Tells It Like It Is. Alcohol and Drugs Are Killing Us

October 03, 2017 By Mitchell Pellecchia

More than 100 Americans a day die from alcohol and drug overdose, said Margate’s Rick Riccardi (left) at a recent speaking engagement in Fort Lauderdale. Opioids killed 33,000 users last year with heroin, fentanyl and morphine leading the pack. Another 88,000 died from alcohol poisoning. Riccardi didn’t paint a pretty picture.

“This has been going on a long time now. We’re in an epidemic and haven’t noticed it. Not even the federal government,”

he told a packed house of business and non-profit leaders at Fort Lauderdale’s Global Events Center.  (bottom photo).

Founder of Fellowship Living in Margate, Riccardi didn’t go easy on a packed house of business and non-profit professionals at the Global Events Center downtown Fort Lauderdale. when explaining obstacles addicts face in the 21st Century.

Riccardi oversees a 215 bed recovery organization for men and women in Margate and Fort Lauderdale, He showed the faces of hundreds of addicts who died from substance abuse in South Florida. A shocking visual for the group.

“These are your addicts and alcoholics who didn’t make it. Each had a life before their untimely death,” he said.

In Broward County alone, an average 27 users overdose each week. The fatality rate is about 37 percent.



Sober himself for more than 20 years, Riccardi spoke to the stigma attached to substance abuse and addicts, a group often thought of as hardcore criminals.

“We’re not the bad guys. Some people belong in jail because they’re really, really bad people,” he said, adding that a large number of addicts need recovery support – not jail time.

“When you hear and see what’s going on in the newspapers, it’s hard to differentiate the good from the bad. People think we’re like ‘those guys’ [sic]”, he said. “I’m here to differentiate that.”

Riccardi explained the trickle-down effect of substance abuse on children, revealing a 24 percent increase in the number of kids with junkie parents placed in Foster care in the past three years. A staggering 80% of children were removed from homes. “That’s what addiction now is doing to our kids,” he said.

  • Substance abuse and addiction costs U.S. taxpayers roughly $41 billion a year in healthcare
  • Nearly 68% of the 99,000 persons jailed and suffer from Substance Use Disorder cost Floridians another $1.6 billion
  • More than 400,000 a year cannot afford treatment and only 1 in 5 opioid abusers receive help.

On average, only one percent of substance abusers are able to get beds in treatment centers. A quarter of those being homeless.

“So we have a homeless problem in addition to an addiction problem,” said Riccardi, a Director on the Board of the Florida Association of Recovery Residences (FARR) – an organization aimed at ensuring the quality and integrity of sober homes across the state. Riccardi and others in the recovery industry worked to pass Florida Statute 397.487, a law that establishes a certification process for recovery homes. To their credit, Broward County has set aside money in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget to expand the Broward Addiction Recovery Center in response to the opioid crisis.

Broward County Commissioners adopted a resolution supporting federal and state efforts to reduce the overprescribing of opioid medications and measures to strengthen prescription drug monitoring systems. The resolution supported the efforts of the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Justice and the National City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic and the Governor’s order directing a Public Health Emergency across the state.

Riccardi said addiction is often seen as a moral failing, which is untrue.

“This unfortunate stigma has created an added burden of shame that has made people with substance use disorders less likely to come forward and seek help. It has also made it more challenging to marshal the necessary investments in prevention and treatment. We must help everyone see that addiction is not a character flaw.” – the Surgeon General
Even more difficult for recovering addicts is the negative stigma placed on sober homes by government and society in general, which results in fewer – not more facilities. Riccardi has jumped through land use hoops to expand his own operation in Margate, while others wanting to move into the city have gotten blow-back from elected officials and residents alike.
Riccardi told the room of baby boomers and millennials that stigmas are derived from three main sources. First: people only hear about problem homes – not the good ones. Second, media typically reports only on problem homes. Third, fear that having a sober home as a neighbor decreases property values and boosts crime rates. Riccardi says sarcastically:

“There’s a nice house next door and a bunch of recovering addicts are going to move in. Oh my god! What’s that going to do to the neighborhood?”

Riccardi refuted the stigma legend with research published by the American Planning Association.
“There is a huge disconnect between what city officials think recovery residences are like, and what they are actually like…,” conveyed Riccardi, who recently expanded efforts by opening the Fellowship Foundation Recovery Community Organizationa local resource where families and addicts can seek guidance and counseling on substance abuse.

Some Rotarians had questions.

“What can parents do to try to avoid the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse [by their children]?” asked one.

“The question often comes after the fact,” replied Riccardi, suggesting parents stay vigilant of who their children spend time with. “Peers are very important. There’s not much you can do if they’re hanging out with kids who are doing that stuff.”

Another wanted to know what the state is doing to help solve the problem.

“Not much,” Riccardi said. “Mental health funding is continually getting cut back in Florida, including dollars for addiction programs. When it comes down from the federal government it isn’t enough to make a difference with the state [lawmakers]. Right now it’s not their priority.”

Another in the audience questioned the impact of separating an addicted parent or child from their family during recovery.

“It saves their lives,” Riccardi answered in a blink. It’s all about getting family members to disconnect…which allows the addict to then connect with people who are going through the same thing. There is life without this stuff. Addicts aren’t necessarily going to listen to their parents or children when kicking the habit.”


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