Lack of site delays PBC emergency room dedicated to opioid overdoses

A plan to open an emergency room dedicated exclusively to opioid overdoses suffered an unexpected setback this week when inspectors rejected the county’s first proposed site. Born of a brainstorming session, the proposed Addiction Stabilization Facility promises to be a “cutting edge” way to address an epidemic that is killing thousands across the United States, including 600 people...
Inside the Gold Rush

For addicts and alcoholics seeking sobriety, Palm Beach County is ground zero.

Celebrities and pro athletes fly in on private jets. Millennials addicted to heroin and designer drugs are delivered by worried parents. It's a billion dollar industry chiefly fueled by pee in a cup. Yet the industry faces a huge bust if an FBI task force finds evidence of kickbacks, insurance fraud and patient brokering.

The Palm Beach Post takes a hard look at the recovery boom at a make-or-break juncture.



Fentanyl killing more in Florida than heroin: CDC report

Fentanyl killing more in Florida than heroin: CDC report

Drugs like fentanyl are now killing Floridians far faster than heroin and, as America’s opioid epidemic worsened, more Americans died from drug overdoses in one year than were killed in all of the Vietnam War, figures released this week show. The data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 1,566 Floridians died from a class of drugs that includes fentanyl in 2016...
Post reporters win anti-fraud coalition’s award for sober home coverage

Post reporters win anti-fraud coalition’s award for sober home coverage

The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, a Washington-based policy and research group, awarded its inaugural journalism award for fraud reporting to The Palm Beach Post for its work on fraud in the sober-home industry. Post investigative reporters Pat Beall and Christine Stapleton accepted the award Tuesday at the coalition’s annual meeting in Washington. The coalition praised The Post’s...
State Attorney Dave Aronberg testifies before House panel on opioids

State Attorney Dave Aronberg testifies before House panel on opioids

The congressional representatives sitting on the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations wanted to hear about patient brokering and sober home fraud. Tuesday morning, they got an earful from Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg and his chief assistant, Al Johnson. “We have had a surge of unscrupulous individuals who prey on addicts,” said Aronberg. &ldquo...
Boynton doctor practiced for 7 months after drug arrest, 4 OD deaths

Boynton doctor practiced for 7 months after drug arrest, 4 OD deaths

Eighteen months ago, Boynton Beach Dr. Peter Katz took in an ex-patient — a homeless opioid addict. She overdosed in his home, dying later in the hospital. She was the fourth patient of his to die of an overdose in a two-year period, state health department documents show. Law enforcement caught up with Katz about eight months ago, charging him with unlawful prescribing of an opioid after Katz...
Doctor in Kenny Chatman case gets 4-year prison sentence

Doctor in Kenny Chatman case gets 4-year prison sentence

The last holdout in the notorious Kenny Chatman drug-treatment fraud case was sentenced Tuesday to four years in federal prison, short of the time prosecutors sought. Dr. Joaquin Mendez was the medical director for Chatman’s Reflections Treatment Center in Margate between September 2014 and September 2015, responsible for seeing patients and deciding their medical care. But he admitted...
Jeff Clemens: Sex scandal snuffs out Democrat’s political career

Jeff Clemens: Sex scandal snuffs out Democrat’s political career

Jeff Clemens had established himself as a policy expert, an incisive debater and a pro at all of the campaign fine points whose mastery leads to victory on Election Day. His own wall included some choice political pelts — Pete Brandenburg, Mack Bernard and Irv Slosberg, men whose talent, connections or wealth made them formidable opponents who, nonetheless, were defeated by Clemens on his rise...
No water or power? No problem for addicts using drugs in treatment

No water or power? No problem for addicts using drugs in treatment

Addicts living in sober homes operated by Bradley Vercosa complained that sometimes there was no running water, electricity, sheets, bowls or pillows but they stayed anyway because they paid no rent and were allowed to use drugs, according to a police report. Vercosa, 50, of Wellington, was one of six people arrested Thursday and charged with patient brokering, which includes accepting referral...
Medical society joins fight against opioid epidemic in PBC

Medical society joins fight against opioid epidemic in PBC

After an unprecedented 590 opioid-related deaths in Palm Beach County in 2016, Palm Beach County doctors are joining the battle as a group against the opioid epidemic. The Palm Beach County Medical Society Services, a nonprofit that coordinates education and volunteer activities of the county Medical Society, held its first meeting this week to begin working on a medical plan to prevent overdose...
UPDATE: Judge orders no bond for Jupiter sober-home stabbing suspect

UPDATE: Judge orders no bond for Jupiter sober-home stabbing suspect

A Greenacres man arrested this week in connection to stabbings at a sober home housed in a Jupiter townhouse is being held without bond at the Palm Beach County Jail. Ruben Torres made his first appearance in court Thursday morning after being released from Jupiter Medical Center. A judge ordered that Torres, 44, be held without bond on two counts of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. See who&rsquo...
Sober home trafficker Kenny Chatman ordered to pay millions in restitution

Sober home trafficker Kenny Chatman ordered to pay millions in restitution

Kenneth “Kenny” Chatman has agreed to pay back more than $16 million for his fraudulent chain of treatment centers and sober homes, according to an agreement entered in federal court this month. The money will go to 32 insurance companies, with by far the largest amount — nearly $8 million — going to Blue Cross Blue Shield. Under federal court stipulation rules, Chatman will...
Sober home task force seeks 5-day prescription limit, needle exchange

Sober home task force seeks 5-day prescription limit, needle exchange

One day after Gov. Rick Scott announced he would seek a three-day limit on opioid prescriptions, Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg said he will seek a five-day limit when the Florida Legislature meets in January. The proposed five-day prescription limit is one of eight proposals addressing sober homes that Aronberg presented during a meeting of the county’s legislative delegation...
NEW: Jupiter sober-home owner threatened to throw out stabbed client

NEW: Jupiter sober-home owner threatened to throw out stabbed client

A bout of early-morning drinking at a Christian sober home in Jupiter led to a fight and stabbing early Tuesday and the owner’s arrest, town police records state. Robert Darigo, who describes himself on Facebook as the owner and operator of Christian Recovery Center, reportedly threatened the client who’d been stabbed during a fight at the townhome on Corbison Point Place in...
Three plead guilty to kickbacks in sober home schemes

Three plead guilty to kickbacks in sober home schemes

Three men arrested by the Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force have pleaded guilty to multiple counts of patient brokering. James Tomasso, 57, of Boca Raton, pleaded guilty Friday to 21 counts of patient brokering and was sentenced to 18 months in jail and ordered to pay $107,328 in fines. Tomasso was given credit for 225 days he has already served. >>Read complete Post coverage on sober...
Scott to ask lawmakers for 3-day cap on opioid prescriptions

Scott to ask lawmakers for 3-day cap on opioid prescriptions

Gov. Rick Scott will ask lawmakers to impose a three-day limit on opioid prescriptions as part of his initiative to combat the opioid crisis during the upcoming legislative session. Scott’s initiatives — announced at two press conferences on Tuesday — also include requiring all health-care professionals who prescribe controlled substances to participate in the Florida Prescription...

POINT OF VIEW: Focus on good news in addiction treatment

Why is patient brokering, in the form of paying a referral, illegal? Because, as a matter of public health policy, we want citizens making their own health care choices, without unreasonable influence or inducement. We want our health care practitioners to endeavor to provide the highest quality of care and service based upon education, experience and earned reputation. If a health care provider can...
Dem candidate Graham says she’d sue Big Pharma over opioid costs

Dem candidate Graham says she’d sue Big Pharma over opioid costs

Democratic candidate Gwen Graham says if she becomes Florida governor she’ll file a lawsuit against pharmaceutical makers to get them to offset the costs of dealing with the opioid crisis. “To me, we need to do with the opioid crisis what (former Gov.) Lawton Chiles did with the tobacco crisis. We need to be holding the pharmaceutical companies accountable for their role in addicting so...
POINT OF VIEW: In the wake of Harvey, let’s not forget Heather

POINT OF VIEW: In the wake of Harvey, let’s not forget Heather

The month of August was a study of extremes in American citizenship. Selfless heroics by ordinary Texans stand in stark contrast to the hatred and bigotry on the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. The events represent the best and worst of our society. As South Floridians, our hearts ache for those struggling in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Yet, while we bear witness to the horrific weather disaster...

POINT OF VIEW: The only safe way to treat opioid addicts

“I’m detoxing.” This is the sort of news that delights the families of patients who are addicted to heroin. The promise of a seven-day detox solution is seductive. But detoxification is actually extremely dangerous. Nearly every addict who successfully completes a week-long detox program without further treatment relapses, and in a world with increasingly powerful synthetic drugs...
Lawmakers get ‘stunning’ primer on Palm Beach County’s opioid crisis

Lawmakers get ‘stunning’ primer on Palm Beach County’s opioid crisis

Florida Senate Appropriations Chairman and potential governor candidate Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, visited hard-hit Palm Beach County on Tuesday to learn about the state’s opioid crisis and said what he heard was “stunning.” At the invitation of County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay and state Sen. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, Latvala came to the Lake Worth campus of Palm...
Senate budget chief plans opioid fact-finding in Palm Beach County

Senate budget chief plans opioid fact-finding in Palm Beach County

Florida Senate Appropriations Chairman and potential 2018 gubernatorial candidate Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, has scheduled a roundtable discussion on the opioid crisis for Aug. 8 at the Lake Worth campus of Palm Beach State College. Latvala said he’s been urged to hold such a meeting by two Palm Beach County Democrats — state Sen. Kevin Rader, of Delray Beach, and County Commissioner...
The feds’ opioid crackdown involved only one case in Florida. Why?

The feds’ opioid crackdown involved only one case in Florida. Why?

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions called it the largest opioid-related fraud bust in U.S. history. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said the huge fraud crackdown was aimed at stopping opportunists from taking advantage of a “national scourge,” the nation’s killer opioid epidemic. But a huge nationwide sweep of health-care fraud cases announced Thursday inexplicably...
Huge health-care fraud sweep: Only 1 addiction treatment case in Fla.

Huge health-care fraud sweep: Only 1 addiction treatment case in Fla.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions called it the largest opioid-related fraud bust in U.S. history. He said at a news conference how an American dies of an overdose every 11 minutes. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said the huge fraud crackdown was aimed at stopping opportunists from taking advantage of a “national scourge,” the nation’s killer opioid epidemic. But...
West Palm Beach drug rehab owners charged with patient brokering

West Palm Beach drug rehab owners charged with patient brokering

The Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force have charged the owners of a West Palm Beach treatment center with paying kickbacks to sober home operators for insured addicts, bringing the total number of arrests in Palm Beach County’s corruption crackdown to 30. Jordi Martinez-Garcia, 48, of Palm Beach Gardens and his partner, Mark Johnston, 55, of West Palm Beach were arrested on 62 counts of...
Feds: Delray rehab owner arrested, billed $58 million for urine tests

Feds: Delray rehab owner arrested, billed $58 million for urine tests

Eric Snyder, owner and operator of a Delray Beach drug treatment center and sober home raided by the FBI in December 2014, has been arrested and charged with fraudulently billing insurance companies for $58.2 million over nearly five years, according to court records. Snyder, 30, and Christopher Fuller, 32, described in a 26-page federal complaint as a “junkie hunter” hired by Snyder,...
Sober Home Task Force score: One-fourth already have pleaded guilty

Sober Home Task Force score: One-fourth already have pleaded guilty

In the past eight months, the Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force has arrested and charged 28 owners and operators of drug treatment centers and sober homes with buying and selling insured addicts. Already, seven have pleaded guilty. Court records of these cases reveal prosecutors’ strategy: Allow defendants to avoid felony convictions if they agree to expose other bad operators and...
BREAKING: Chatman drug treatment associates owe millions

BREAKING: Chatman drug treatment associates owe millions

Conspirators in Kenny Chatman’s sprawling drug treatment criminal enterprise are on the hook for millions of dollars, with one man expected to pay his share of $5.6 million in restitution. Chatman’s operations had a horrifying human cost but most of the money came from insurers. Family members blame his operations for loved ones’ deadly relapses, and prosecutors told how Chatman...
UPDATE: West Palm Beach sober home owner accused of patient brokering

UPDATE: West Palm Beach sober home owner accused of patient brokering

10:15 a.m. UPDATE: Judge Caroline Shepherd set Jayeshkumar Rameshander Dave’s bond at $10,000 in a brief court hearing Wednesday at the Palm Beach County Jail. He is also required to surrender his passport and cannot practice in the industry until the case is resolved. The State Attorney told Shepherd during the hearing that new evidence was found through a search warrant, which could result...
NEW: Sober-home regulation starts Saturday with new Florida law

NEW: Sober-home regulation starts Saturday with new Florida law

Florida’s burgeoning sober-home industry, fraught with fraud, will soon see oversight, as Gov. Rick Scott signed a sober home cleanup bill into law Monday. The law targets shady marketing practices, including kickbacks and patient brokering, that draw addicts to seemingly unregulated sober homes and treatment facilities throughout the state with the promise of recovery. Palm Beach...
NEW: Delray treatment center director arrested for patient brokering

NEW: Delray treatment center director arrested for patient brokering

A 50-year-old Boca Raton woman was arrested by the Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force on Thursday and charged with 35 counts of patient brokering. This is the 27th arrest by the task force since October 2016. Sarah Muhammad was employed at Chapters Recovery, a substance-abuse treatment facility which also did business as Good Futures Recovery in Delray Beach, between 2015 and at least through...
Doctor in Kenny Chatman drug treatment case given max sentence

Doctor in Kenny Chatman drug treatment case given max sentence

One of the doctors who oversaw patient care at one of Kenny Chatman’s notorious drug treatment centers was sentenced Tuesday to 10 years in federal prison. Dr. Donald Willems, the medical director for Chatman’s Reflections Treatment Center from October 2015 to May 2016, was given the maximum sentence after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud. In his plea deal, the...
NEW: This Palm Beach County town is now limiting detox centers

NEW: This Palm Beach County town is now limiting detox centers

No detox centers will be allowed to open in Lake Park after officials approved a moratorium this week. The six substance abuse treatment centers in the town licensed by the Department of Children and Families can continue operations but not expand, town Attorney Tom Baird said. Lake Park will not accept applications for new detox or rehab centers. Mayor Michael O’Rourke said the measure equates...
Drug overdoses among new challenges for hurricane shelters

Drug overdoses among new challenges for hurricane shelters

Nearly 16,000 people in nine counties from Indian River to Miami-Dade evacuated to shelters during Hurricane Matthew, toting typical sleepover accessories — and their own personal demons. Six evacuees who sought refuge at Atlantic High School in Delray Beach overdosed on drugs as the dangerous Category 4 cyclone approached South Florida. In another county, a bus full of teenagers from a residential...
Drug overdoses among new challenges for hurricane shelters

Drug overdoses among new challenges for hurricane shelters

Nearly 16,000 people in nine counties from Indian River to Miami-Dade evacuated to shelters during Hurricane Matthew, toting typical sleepover accessories — and their own personal demons. Six evacuees who sought refuge at Atlantic High School in Delray Beach overdosed on drugs as the dangerous Category 4 cyclone approached South Florida. In another county, a bus full of teenagers from a residential...
BREAKING: Sober home owner, manager accused of patient brokering

BREAKING: Sober home owner, manager accused of patient brokering

The owner and manager of a sober home west of Lake Worth have been charged with taking patient brokering payoffs from a Delray Beach drug treatment center raided last fall, according to records. The county’s Sober Home Task Force charged Zarinah Hargrove, 41, and Angela M. Weathersbee, 38, each with 10 counts. Both were booked Wednesday into the Palm Beach County Jail — Hargrove in the...
First dose of opioid money favors Central Florida over South Florida

First dose of opioid money favors Central Florida over South Florida

Two weeks after Gov. Rick Scott ordered the Department of Health to declare a state of emergency over the opioid crisis, the promised $27 million in aid is starting to roll out. First priorities: medical treatment for people addicted to heroin or other opioids, and naloxone to reverse overdoses. The Florida Department of Children and Families, the agency charged with overseeing addiction treatment...
Notorious treatment center operator Chatman gets 27 years in prison

Notorious treatment center operator Chatman gets 27 years in prison

Kenneth “Kenny” Chatman was a relatively small drug-treatment provider despite the millions he raked in every year, Assistant U.S. Attorney Marie Villafaña said Wednesday. But he was “the most dangerous,” she told U.S. District Court Judge Donald Middlebrooks, and FBI agents “never worked harder” than the last few months of 2016, as they rushed to put Chatman...
Woman on Chatman: ‘Men came in and paid him money to rape me.’

Woman on Chatman: ‘Men came in and paid him money to rape me.’

Kenny Chatman kept a 19-year-old woman tied down in a house, where more than 100 men raped her, a woman wrote to U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks on Monday. The corrupt drug treatment center operator, who faces up to life in prison when sentenced today, held her for weeks, until she jumped out of a window and escaped wearing nothing but a T-shirt, according to the letter. “They IV-drugged...
Sober Home Task Force makes 26th arrest - takes aim at labs

Sober Home Task Force makes 26th arrest - takes aim at labs

After six weeks without an arrest, the Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force roared back into action on Thursday, making four arrests in 24 hours and expanding its investigation into business practices of labs that perform costly urine drug tests. The new arrests — plus additional charges against a prior arrestee — bring the total arrests by the task force to 26 and also mark the...
Owner of West Palm Beach sober home accused of patient brokering

Owner of West Palm Beach sober home accused of patient brokering

The owner of two Palm Beach County sober homes where police responded to 28 calls last year — including six overdoses — was arrested on multiple counts of patient brokering on Wednesday. Matthew Anderson, 38, offered free rent to residents of his sober home, Anastasia’s Way, contingent on their attendance at London Treatment Center, according to a police report. Detectives reviewed...
Tax savings for voters means cost cutting for county — or tax hikes

Tax savings for voters means cost cutting for county — or tax hikes

State lawmakers are expected to finalize the budget Monday, but for many officials in Palm Beach County, the most important votes already have been taken. Those were the votes that passed a joint resolution allowing residents to determine if they want to expand the homestead exemption from $50,000 to $75,000 for homes worth $100,000 or more. The state House and Senate passed the resolution, HJR 7105...
Here’s what Florida lawmakers did — and didn’t do — about the heroin crisis

Here’s what Florida lawmakers did — and didn’t do — about the heroin crisis

Florida lawmakers attacked the heroin overdose epidemic this year wherever they could find it — in courtrooms, call-centers, hospitals, sober homes and treatment centers. Unlike recent years, when bills related to addiction and sober homes faced indifference and pious judgment, this year’s legislative session saw bipartisan bills flying through both houses unopposed. Some of the urgency...
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