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Rubio cites Post coverage, asks feds to review grand jury report

Local prosecutors hoped that state regulators would consider a Palm Beach County grand jury’s recommendations on fixing the crime-plagued sober home industry.

Now, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, wants the federal government to see whether the grand jury report should change laws across the country.

Citing the wake-up call delivered by The Palm Beach Post’s “Heroin: Killer of a generation” special section, Rubio formally asked the comptroller general to assess the Palm Beach County grand jury’s recommendations in its review of federal and state oversight of sober homes.

“It’s shocking to realize that in 2015, more people died in Palm Beach County from opioids than in car accidents. Seeing the faces of these 216 victims drives home the incredible toll this epidemic is having in our state, and makes it clear the disease of drug addiction can visit any family at any time,” Rubio said in reference to the Nov. 20 Palm Beach Post front page, which was devoted to photos of the 216 people who died in Palm Beach County in 2015 from heroin-related overdoses.

“The Palm Beach Post’s special report is heartbreaking — these people were fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters to people we know. It also helps inform our policy work,” Rubio said. “We’ve taken some steps forward this year to prevent more deaths, but we must do more to stop this terrible scourge from spreading.”

The grand jury convened at the request of State Attorney Dave Aronberg, a Palm Beach County Democrat entering his second term. It focused on fraud in the sober home industry. Many of the report’s findings echoed details revealed in Post stories dating to August 2015.

Those stories included a closeup looks at several industry operators, including Kenneth “Kenny” Chatman, who was arrested Dec. 21 with his wife and four others in a federal crackdown on fraud in the sober home industry.

Rubio, a Republican entering his second Senate term, launched an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for president. In its special section, The Post noted that Rubio missed a critical 2016 Senate vote on the most important addiction bill in decades.

In his statement to The Post, Rubio pointed out many steps he’s taken to fight the heroin epidemic, such as his vote in December for the 21st Century Cures Act and $872 million to pay for it.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office, under the comptroller general, is reviewing federal and state oversight of sober homes, Rubio wrote in a Dec. 22 letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro. He asked Dodaro to consider the grand jury report, released Dec. 12, which made 15 recommendations to:

  • Crack down on deceptive marketing aimed at vulnerable people.
  • Require effective standards for sober homes.
  • Help state regulators move quickly and effectively.
  • Improve laws against patient brokering and other kickback schemes.
  • Rebalance law enforcement and patient privacy laws to help criminal investigations.

“I believe more must be done to make sure these facilities are acting in good faith and not defrauding taxpayers by taking advantage of people who are desperately seeking help in their fight against the disease of addiction,” Rubio said.

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