Four million vs. 24 million: How many addicts are there in the U.S.?

Credit writer Dan Baum points for timing. But math? Maybe not.

Baum authored a recent Harpers magazine article suggesting that legalizing drugs might be the answer to the current fix we are in.

Harpers' controversial piece on legalizing drugs- all drugs.
Harpers’ controversial piece on legalizing drugs- all drugs.

His Sunday  interview on NPR about the legalization idea out there just hours before an estimated 1800 gather in Atlanta for the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit. Among the attendees: President Obama, as well as the head of the DEA, the Surgeon General, the head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and various and sundry congresspeople.

Monday morning, a Daily Beast columnist weighed in on ending the war on drugs, citing Baum’s article and pointing out that Obama’s talk will take place in a city ravaged by drugs.

Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office on Drug Control Policy, is among high-level fed officials at Summit.
Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office on Drug Control Policy, is among high-level fed officials at Summit.

But while the timing is good, a crucial piece of math used in Baum’s interview is probably not only off base but out of the ballpark entirely.

He suggested about 4 million Americans have a drug dependency problem, citing Peter Reuter of the University of Maryland, who Baum said puts the number of people addicted to hard drugs at fewer than 4 million.

What is being defined as a “hard” drug isn’t entirely clear.

But the feds, based on years of national surveys and emergency room data, estimate more than 24 million people are in need of treatment for addiction.

Even if you’re skeptical of figures provided by the federal government’s drug-fighting agencies, consider this: There are an estimated 600,000 or so heroin addicts in the U.S.  Given its lethal dangers, heroin has all the headlines right now, but it is far from the most common drug of abuse.

Think oxycodone, benzodiazepines, Percocet; throw in methamphetamine, and cocaine. For starters.

If even those five drugs generated the same level of addiction as heroin, once you add in the heroin figures you start bumping up against four million number.

Palm Beach Post Reporters Christine Stapleton and Pat Beall  are covering the four-day Summit live from Atlanta.  The two are members of a Post team of reporters investigating scams in Palm Beach County’s $1 billion drug treatment industry.

The 8-month long investigation by the Palm Beach Post uncovered patient brokering, insurance fraud and kickbacks.

Obama to speak at heroin summit: follow Post’s live coverage

Hypodermic needles found in the trash at a cottage apartment by Jean Thomas, 83, in West Palm Beach's Prospect Park neighborhood. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)
(Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

President Obama will join high-ranking members of his Administration at the National RX Drug and Heroin Summit in Atlanta this week to discuss ongoing efforts to address the country’s worsening opioid addiction epidemic.

Among other speakers: Michael Botticelli, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy; Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy; Dr. Tom Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse; Chuck Rosenger, Acting Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration; and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsak.

Palm Beach Post Reporters Christine Stapleton and Pat Beall will cover the event live from Atlanta.  Stapleton and Beall are members of a team of reporters that have been investigating scams in Palm Beach County’s $1 billion drug treatment industry

The 8-month long investigation by the Palm Beach Post uncovered patient brokering, insurance fraud and kickbacks. An FBI, multi-agency task force has been investigating the industry for two years. However, no charges have been filed.

The president’s appearance at the Summit on Tuesday follows his visit last year to West Virginia, where he announced a number of new public and private sector actions to address the epidemic, including a Presidential Memorandum on prescriber training and opioid use disorder treatment.

“We are honored that President Obama will participate in the important discussion of combating prescription drug abuse and the heroin crisis,” said Nancy Hale, President/CEO for Operation UNITE, the Summit’s organizer. “His presence will help focus the nation’s attention on the drug epidemic that is devastating families and communities across the country.”

 

 

More vigilante justice: Clean addicts protest outside sober house where three overdosed last week

Young recovering addicts – frustrated with the pace of the investigation of shady business practices in the sober home industry – continued their efforts to crack down on what they say are corrupt sober homes by protesting outside a Lake Worth apartment complex where three addicts overdosed last week.FullSizeRender (8)

“It just takes everyone to get together and not rely on original process,” said R. J. Vied, organizer of the protest outside the apartment where his friend died the Friday night. “We’ve been waiting for authorities to shut them down.”

An 8-month-long investigation by The Palm Beach Post found questionable business practices in the county’s $1 billion drug treatment industry including patient brokering, insurance fraud and kickbacks.

Vied advertised the protest on his Facebook page Saturday morning asking for supporters to join him at the complex on South Federal Highway in Lake Worth. About two dozen young supporters showed up and milled around the complex, which includes a two-story apartment building, small motel and pool. Vied said one young woman moved and and the group helped two others find treatment elsewhere.

A resident of the complex declined to comment, saying his friend had overdosed the night before. While standing on the sidewalk in front of the sober home, one protester spotted a small white bag of white power on the sidewalk. FullSizeRender (7)

The owner of the complex did not return a call for comment. The Post is withholding the address pending comment from the owner.

Saturday’s protest is the second effort in a week by young recovering addicts to take on shady business practices in the sober home industry in Palm Beach County. Earlier in the week, an anonymous recovering addict created a Facebook page named Bill Wilson – the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous – to expose what he described as corrupt operators.

Facebook shut down the page after he outed two sober home operators. However, within hours the anonymous addict created another Facebook page with the same purpose. On Friday he exposed two more individuals. The Post is not publishing the name of the new Facebook page for legal reasons.Bill wilson Redacted

Protesters said they are frustrated that law enforcement and state health officials have not shut down any sober homes or arrested owners and operators despite their complaints. In 2014 an FBI task force began investigating the industry and raided two sober homes. However, no charges have been filed.

“Everybody keeps saying there are going to be indictments but nobody has gotten arrested yet,” said Maureen Kielian, the Florida director of Steered Straight. The longer they wait, the more deaths we’re having.”

Vied, who has been clean and sober for 2 years, said he hoped the protest would show the community that addicts can get clean and are concerned about their perception in the community. He vowed to protest outside a sober home every two weeks.

 

 

VIDEO: See how the new West Palm Beach spring training complex is taking shape

Want to take a quick ride with construction crews building the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, where the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros will play starting in January?

Click this short video to see what it looked like as of a week ago.

 

 

Vigilante addicts: Tired of corruption, young addicts point fingers on Facebook

Several hours after Facebook shut down a page created by young, anonymous recovering addicts who vowed to expose what they said were corrupt operators of sober homes in Palm Beach County, the group created another Facebook page on Thursday with the same goal.
Bill wilson Redacted

“WE ARE A LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY MEN AND WOMEN WHOSE PRIMARY PURPOSE IS TO EXPOSE THE FRAUDS OF THE SCUMBAGS WHO ARE PROFITING OFF OF OUR FELLOWS INSURANCE POLICIES,” a member of the group wrote when the page went live on Tuesday.

An eight-month investigation by The Palm Beach Post has revealed questionable practices in the county’s $1 billion drug treatment industry, including insurance fraud, patient brokering and kickbacks. An FBI task force began investigating the industry in 2014. However, no charges have been filed.

The group named its first page Bill Wilson – after the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous – and vowed to expose an operator daily. Dozens of commenters responded – mostly in support of the effort. On Wednesday, the group named a second operator.

By Thursday morning Facebook had taken the page down, saying the content was “abusive.” But by noon the group created another page with a similar name and exposed two more operators.

“I WAS READY TO CALL IT QUITS BUT THE SHOW GOES ON…I FEEL LIKE I LET MY FELLOW ADDICTS DOWN. SO TODAY I WILL BE EXPOSING 2 PEOPLE. SWALLOW YOUR PRIDE AND PUT AWAY YOUR EGO BECAUSE NO ONE IS SAFE, YOU WILL BE EXPOSED!
‪#‎EXPOSED”‬

 

Atlanta Braves like south end of John Prince Park for spring training complex

If the Atlanta Braves get permission to move to Palm Beach County, their top choice for building a spring training complex is on the south end of John Prince Park just west of Lake Worth.

Yellow highlighter marks rough boundaries of area in the sound end of John Prince Park where Atlanta Braves want to to build a spring training complex.
Yellow highlighter marks rough boundaries of area in the sound end of John Prince Park where Atlanta Braves want to to build a spring training complex.

The $100 million baseball complex would be east of the county-owned park’s Congress Avenue entrance, north of the Lantana airport and south of Sixth Avenue South. It would not encroach on Lake Osborne, which meanders north to south on the east side of the park.

The Braves have not publicly said how many acres are needed, but sources said it would be far less than the 135 acres sought by the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros when they briefly considered the south end of the park for a two-team facility.

This idea is no longer in play, but it was an initial design by the Astros and Nationals for a stadium on the north end of the park looking out to the lake.
This idea is no longer in play, but it was an initial design by the Astros and Nationals for a stadium on the north end of the park looking out to the lake.

The Nationals and Astros ultimately rejected John Prince Park – they’re now building a complex in West Palm Beach — because of time-consuming permitting issues associated with encroachments into canals and the lake. Those encroachments would not exist under the Braves’ preliminary plan, sources said.

The Braves are not considering the north end of the park because it would disrupt too many public amenities. The Nationals and Astros also briefly considered 84 acres at the north end, a site that would have included a stadium looking out toward Lake Osborne.

The Palm Beach County Commission might discuss the idea of bringing the Braves to Lake Worth during their next meeting on April 5.

 

Amid soaring heroin use, Gov. Rick Scott greenlights Florida’s first needle exchange program

Hypodermic needles   found in the trash at a cottage apartment by Jean Thomas, 83, in West Palm Beach's Prospect Park neighborhood. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)
Hypodermic needles found in the trash at a cottage apartment by Jean Thomas, 83, in West Palm Beach’s Prospect Park neighborhood. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

It’s taken a while- a few years, actually- but today Gov. Rick Scott signed off on a pilot program in Miami-Dade County, run by the University of Miami, which establishes a needle exchange for addicts.

Once politically unthinkable, the state’s soaring rates of IV drug use- and deaths- have slowly made the idea of providing clean needles to addicts acceptable.

Credit the track record of needle exchanges in reducing rates of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. That helps explain why the Florida Medical Association threw its considerable weight behind the pilot program, and why a Republican-led Congress has lifted the ban on using federal money for such exchanges.

Florida’s program is, however, just a pilot. And the University of Miami won’t be able to use state or local tax dollars to get it up and running and keep it going.

But in a written statement, Bill Piper, Senior Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, expressed optimism: “Hopefully this pilot syringe program is just the beginning of major changes in Florida,” he wrote.

Some neighborhoods locally might welcome that: In Prospect Park, 83-year-old Jean Thomas discovered a cache of needles in her trash last year.

 

Giant pink bunny and friends hope to sit in traffic soon near CityPlace

Yes, that was a giant fuchsia rabbit and a large snail crawling through traffic along U.S. 1 late Monday afternoon from Boca Raton to West Palm Beach.

big bunny
Gallery owner Paul Fisher with the giant rabbit that he hopes will soon sit in the median of Okeechobee Boulevard in front of CityPlace.

“It was so cool watching everyone on the street whipping out their phones taking pictures,’’ said Paul Fisher, who followed the flatbed with the giant sculptures all the way to his art gallery at 433 Flamingo Dr.

If you missed it, you’ll get another chance soon.

Actually, you can see the rabbit now – all 8 ½ feet of it. It’s perched out in the grass, looming over cars in a parking lot behind Fisher’s gallery just west of U.S. 1.

But later this year, the rabbit and snail, along with an enormous yellow bird and 21-ft. crocodile and perhaps other giant sculptured animals, are expected to take up residence in the grass median along Okeechobee Boulevard in front of CityPlace.swallow

Fisher said he is in the process of getting permits from the city, but there’s no installation date yet.

The giant sculptures are the work of Italian artists called Cracking Art Group. Made of plastic, the group’s animal sculptures have been featured in public places in in London, Rome and Vienna.

Closer to home, they were part of Art Basel Miami a few years ago and, more recently, Art Boca this past weekend.

“They’re all for sale,’’ said Fisher, the only regional dealer for the animal sculptures. And they’re not cheap — $22,000 each.

“I’ve always admired them. They’re beautiful. The great thing about these sculptures is they can stay outside for 100 years and they won’t fade.’’

crockAfter returning from Boca Raton late Monday, the snail, crocodile and swallow were placed inside Fisher’s gallery.

But the silly rabbit was put in the back parking lot “because it doesn’t fit inside,’’ Fisher said.

“I’ve had worse job than wrangling giant fuchsia bunnies. It’s more provocative outside. You see it from a distance and say, ‘Oh, there’s an 8-1/2 ft. rabbit.’ But when you see them up front, there’s nothing comic about them.’’

Fisher remembers the pair of 4-ton bronze elephants, by Connecticut artist Peter Woytuk, that graced the grass median on Okeechobee Boulevard just south of CityPlace in 2002.

The big bunny and his friends will be just as popular, he said.

“Everybody gets a big smile on their face when the see a giant rabbit.’’

Buzzfeed probe of sober homes cites Post investigation

Corruption in South Florida’s drug treatment industry grabbed headlines on the web on Saturday with an in-depth story by Buzzfeed News – the online news and entertainment giant.Spoon sig

The article chronicled recovering addicts victimized in some of the scams uncovered in the Palm Beach Post’s 8-month investigation. By linking to several Post stories, the Buzzfeed article – “Addicts for Sale” – explained how addicts with insurance are bought and sold by “marketers,” “body brokers” and “junkie hunters” who work for sober homes.

The story focused on Delray Beach, where hundreds of sober homes and outpatient treatment program are the focus of a 2-year-investigation by and FBI task force. Investigators raided two sober homes. However, no charges have been filed.

Besides patient brokering, authorities are investigating insurance fraud resulting from unnecessary urine drug tests and kickbacks paid to addicts, sober home operators, outpatient treatment programs and labs – all who need addict’s urine to continue billing insurance companies.

 

As Youth Services International exits Florida, critics ask: Why are for-profit businesses in charge of youthful offenders?

It’s almost impossible to talk about Youth Services International exiting the Florida juvenile system without also talking about privatization.

“We should recognize as a community that we cannot derive profit off the punishment and rehabilitation of kids,” said Gordon Weekes, the Broward County chief assistant public defender who for years has locked horns with YSI over the treatment of kids in its care.

“This should never have been a profit center.”

Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice long ago began putting the care and treatment

Palm Beach County Juvenile Correctional Facility, which YSI ran for years.
Palm Beach County Juvenile Correctional Facility, which YSI ran for years.

of juveniles bound for residential, treatment or detention facilities into the hands of private companies.

YSI was among the first to ink contracts and among the first to start chalking up troubling reports dating to its mid-1990s management of a Pahokee lockup: not enough staffers, not enough food and too much violence.

Last week, DJJ announced it was severing the company’s seven contracts as part of a whistleblower suit settlement. The whistleblowers, all former YSI employees, had reported, among other things: not enough staffers, not enough food and too much violence. (YSI said that, even though the suit was without merit,  it settled because it wanted to put the long-running litigation behind it. )

Caroline Isaacs
Caroline Isaacs

But, said Caroline Isaacs, Arizona director for the American Friends Service Committee, “This is not about a single bad actor or a few bad apples. It is inherent in the effort to make money and is driven by the concerns and needs of shareholders.”

“Oh, I never fault the companies on this stuff,” said Paul Wright. That’s a bit out of left field coming from Wright, a former prison inmate, the founder and Executive Director of the Human Rights Defense Center and editor of the award-winning Prison Legal News, which has for years has taken on prison privatization in all its manifestations.

Paul Wright
Paul Wright

But, said Wright, nobody should be surprised when a for-profit company finds ways to make profits.

“Let’s take them at their word they are in the business of making money,” he said. Cutting costs is part of the deal, he pointed out.

“It’s not their fault that government continues to shovel money at them.”

 

Weekes said YSI’s exit give DJJ an opportunity: a small, state-run facility that incorporates the best practices of juvenile detention. “Take the the profits we are paying to companies and get down to core  element of what a child needs to get back on the right track,” he said. “Once we have best practices, we can replicate that.

“We can’t just keep throwing good money after bad at the YSIs of the world.”