The sunny peninsula of Florida is a haven for addiction treatment centers and sober living homes. But not all treatment programs are created equal, and in fact, South Florida addiction treatment has been plagued in recent years by problems that have threatened the reputation of all programs.
In this series, we look at the state of Florida addiction treatment, including issues facing the industry, what’s being done to address those issues and how you can find a high-quality, reputable treatment program.
Part II – Cracking Down: New Legislation Offers Hope for South Florida
Not everyone is getting away with deceptive treatment and sober home practices. In a high-profile bust this year, Kenneth Chatman, a treatment center operator in Palm Beach and Broward counties, was sentenced to more than 27 years in federal prison. His crimes included the sex trafficking of his clients and allowing drug use in his facility as long as the insurance was still billable. Although not considered the biggest player in fraudulent practices, Chatman was considered the most dangerous, due to the nature of his crimes. Those crimes led to several overdose deaths and the horrific sexual predation of female clients.
In another high-profile case, treatment center and sober home owner Eric Snyder was arrested in July 2017 and charged with conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud. A lengthy FBI investigation found that Snyder’s treatment center and sober home billed insurance companies around $58 million between 2011 and 2015. They billed for unnecessary treatments and services that were never provided, and they paid kickbacks for patient referrals, among other crimes.
Additionally, between October 2016 and August 2017, State Attorney Aronberg oversaw the arrests of nearly 30 industry profiteers, thanks to Palm Beach County’s Sober Home Task Force, which began cracking down on abusive practices in 2016.
Governor Scott Declares a Public Health Emergency in Florida
In May 2017, Governor Rick Scott declared the Florida opioid epidemic a public health emergency, which paved the way for the state to receive more than $54 million in grant money to pay for prevention, treatment and recovery services.
Proposed legislation to fight the epidemic includes:
- A three-day limit on opioid painkiller supplies unless pain patients meet strict criteria for a seven-day supply
- Required participation in the Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program by all healthcare professionals who prescribe or dispense opioid medications
- Reforms to address unlicensed pain management clinics
- Required continuing education on responsible prescribing for healthcare professionals
- New grant opportunities for fighting the opioid crisis in the state
Two Laws Poised to Put an End to Fraudulent Treatment Practices
A pair of new laws signed by Governor Scott in July 2017 target a range of problems in the Florida addiction treatment industry. The laws address patient brokering, kickbacks and shady marketing practices. House Bill 807 and Senate Bill 788 both passed in May, born from recommendations made by State Attorney Aronberg. These laws will:
- Force sober-home telemarketers to register with the state and provide clearly stated disclaimers about who’s paying them
- Criminalize deceptive marketing practices
- Clarify the laws that make kickbacks illegal
- Require background checks for treatment center owners, directors and clinical supervisors
- Allow the Office of Statewide Prosecution to pursue cases of patient brokering, freeing up local law enforcement
- Add patient brokering to the list of crimes that are punishable under Florida’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, which echoes a federal law that makes it easier for law enforcement to crack down on organized crime
- Give the Department of Children and Families the authority to oversee licensed treatment centers, including making unannounced visits
- Prevent licensed treatment programs from referring clients to sober homes that aren’t voluntarily state-certified
- Require all treatment facility staff that has contact with clients to be certified or licensed
Florida’s current patient brokering laws ban treatment centers and other medical and mental health practices from paying for client referrals. HB 807 expands on the definition of what constitutes patient brokering and establishes a $50,000 fine for patient brokering offenses. Additionally, the new laws ensure that by the summer of 2019, treatment centers that refer clients to sober homes that aren’t voluntarily certified will be subject to a $1,000 fine for each incident.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi told the press during a news conference that she’s hopeful the new legislation will force disreputable sober homes and treatment centers to clean up their act. “We’re basically going to regulate them out of business,” she said.
A City Ordinance Aimed at Reducing Sober-Home Fraud
Pushback against deceptive and harmful practices by sober living homes comes from cities as well as counties and the state. A new ordinance adopted by Delray Beach and Boynton Beach in July 2017 will enable these cities to crack down on fraudulent practices. The ordinance limits sober living homes to one per block and requires new sober homes to be certified by an independent trade association like the Florida Association of Recovery Residences.
According to NPR, a similar ordinance was passed in Prescott, Arizona, and the number of sober residences operating in the city is now a third of what is was before the ordinance passed. Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein is confident that the ordinance will help curb the problem.
Google Joins the Fight
It’s not just law makers and law enforcement that are cracking down on deceptive marketing practices associated with the Florida addiction treatment industry. In September 2017, Google removed and stopped selling ads that use rehab-related search terms like “rehab near me” and “alcohol rehab Florida,” due to the high number of misleading practices among treatment centers and body brokers.
Read on for the conclusion of this series, How to Pick a Reputable Treatment Center