County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay honored for efforts to fight opioid epidemic

Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay has been honored by the Florida Association of Counties for her efforts to help communities across the state deal with the opioid epidemic.

FAC President Kathy Bryant presents the award to Vice Mayor Melissa McKinlay at the Legislative Awards Luncheon held at the Palm Beach County Convention Center on June 28, 2017. (Handout photo)

At a ceremony Wednesday at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, McKinlay received the Marlene Young Presidential Advocacy Award, which is presented to a county elected official who has shown extraordinary leadership.

“Her commitment to opioid abuse saw success with additional federal and state funding as well as tougher penalties,’’ FAC President Kathy Bryant said as she presented the award to McKinlay.

On Thursday, Governor Rick Scott signed an executive order extending his public health emergency declaration on the opioid crisis for another 60 days. McKinlay had sent him a letter earlier this month requesting the extension.

McKinlay also was among the first public officials in the state to lobby Scott for the initial declaration, which he issued May 3. She helped persuade the commission in April to adopt an initial $3 million plan to address the crisis.

McKinlay ramped up her efforts to fight the epidemic after the overdose death of her chief aide’s adult daughter in 2016.

McKinlay will be the keynote speaker Aug. 31 in Boca Raton at a rally to observe International Overdose Awareness Day. She will speak as a guest of Southeast Florida Recovery Advocates. The rally will be held at Florida Atlantic University from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

The Marlene Young Presidential Advocacy Award is named after the late Marlene Young, who served as a County Commissioner in Polk County from 1988-2000. She was a founding member of the Florida Counties Foundation, and in 1993 she became President of FAC.

 

Drug treatment center doctor who worked for Kenny Chatman will stay out of jail

A doctor who worked for corrupt treatment center operator Kenny Chatman will not be going back to jail – at least for now.

Federal prosecutors wanted Dr. Joaquin Mendez, who is out on $100,000 bond, back behind bars after they argued he violated the terms of his release by treating patients and prescribing opioids.

Kenneth Chatman walks into Reflections, his treatment center in Margate, in 2015.

But Mendez’s lawyer, Richard Lubin, argued the terms were vague, and both sides agreed last week simply to amend the terms of his release.

Mendez, a former medical director for Chatman’s corrupt Reflections Treatment Center, is the only one of eight defendants not to have taken a plea deal for their involvement with the facility.

The seven others, including Chatman and his wife, Laura, were sentenced to a combined 58 years in prison.

Mendez has been charged with money laundering and conspiracy to commit health care fraud for ordering unnecessary urine drug tests for addicts, according to prosecutors.

One of the terms of his release, added in handwriting to the paperwork, was that he “not use his Medicare number to provide any services.”

Prosecutors said he violated those terms after he treated at least 188 Medicare patients wrote more than 100 prescriptions for controlled substances that included oxycodone, Oxycontin, clonazepam and fentanyl.

Lubin, his lawyer, argued the terms were weirdly vague.

“Not only is this Court and Dr. Mendez left guessing at what it means to ‘treat patients using his Medicare number,’ it is entirely unclear what the Government means by ‘Medicare number,'” Lubin wrote.

HEROIN: Killer of a generation

Apparently the ‘Medicare number’ prosecutors referenced was Mendez’s Provider Transaction Access Number, which Lubin said had “absolutely nothing to do with” Medicare claims.

On Thursday, both sides agreed to changing the terms of release.

Mendez is one of two doctors in charge of overseeing patient care at Chatman’s facilities to be arrested. Last Week, Dr. Donald Willems was sentenced to 10 years in prison – the maximum sentence – after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud.

Chatman was sentenced to 27 years in prison last month after admitting to turning his female patients into prostitutes and pimping them out online.

Sober Home Task Force arrests Delray rehab admissions director

Sarah Muhammad

A 57-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.

Sarah Muhammad was employed at Chapters Recovery, which also did business at Good Futures Recovery in Delray Beach. The arrest report with details of her alleged involvement was not available. Muhammad is the 27th arrest by the task force since October 2016.

In May state lawmakers renewed funding for the Sober Home Task Force, headed Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg. According to Aronberg, the money will allow the task force to continue operating for another year. The task force is comprised of law enforcement from a dozen state and local agencies.

HEROIN: Killer of a generation

In December the Sober Home Task Force raided Good Futures, carrying away boxes of documents and computers.

In March, 93 counts of patient brokering were filed against Daniel Kandler, one of the owners of Chapters. The two other owners, David Remland, and Mark Desimone were arrested on May 11 and charged with patient brokering.

According to police reports, Kandler is the owner of Impact Q Testing, a laboratory adjacent to Chapters on West Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach. Police reports say that Kandler — along with Remland and Desimone — made payments to James Tomasso and others for urine samples from addicts at various treatment centers.

Tomasso was arrested in February on charges of patient brokering. He told investigators that Kandler paid him $150,000 to bring urine samples to Impact Q Testing.

 

One of Kenny Chatman’s top doctors gets maximum sentence

Kenneth Chatman walks into Reflections, his treatment center in Margate, in 2015.

A doctor who treated patients at Kenny Chatman’s notorious drug treatment center was sentenced to 10 years in prison today.

Dr. Donald Willems, an osteopath, was the medical director for Chatman’s Reflections Treatment Center, in Broward County, from October 2015 to May 2016.

He admitted in his plea deal to signing off on drug tests and unnecessary allergy and DNA tests, which helped Chatman turn his drug treatment center into a multi-million dollar business.

Although Willems was supposed to be treating the patients at Reflections, he wasn’t monitoring the results of their drug tests, he admitted. If he was, he would have noticed that most of the patients were not sober and their drug tests were actually being submitted by other people, including Reflections workers.

‘Kenny Chatman kidnapped me’: Read one woman’s human trafficking story

The 10-year sentence was the maximum he could have received after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud.

HEROIN: Killer of a generation

Willems was one of two doctors arrested for working with Chatman, who was sentenced to 27 years in prison last month. Chatman admitted to turning some of his female patients into prostitutes at his sober homes in Palm Beach County. Even in South Florida’s widely corrupt drug treatment industry, Assistant U.S. Attorney Marie Villafaña called Chatman “the most dangerous” player in it.

>> HEROIN: Killer of a generation

Federal prosecutors say the other doctor, Dr. Joaquin Mendez, has violated the conditions of his release on bond, and they asked last week to arrest him again. Mendez is the only one of the eight defendants – which includes Chatman’s wife, Laura – to not take a plea deal.

Willems is also facing four-year-old state charges of racketeering and illegally providing oxycodone for his work at a pill mill in Broward County.

Doctor charged in Kenny Chatman case caught prescribing opioids

Kenneth Chatman walks into Reflections, his treatment center in Margate, in 2015.

Federal prosecutors are trying to get a doctor who worked for notorious treatment center operator Kenny Chatman back behind bars after they say he was caught prescribing the opioids Oxycontin and fentanyl to Medicare patients.

Dr. Joaquin Mendez, facing charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering and health care fraud in January, was out on $100,000 bond. As part of the conditions of his release, he was not allowed use his Medicare number to “provide any services,” according to a court filing on Friday. His Medicare number was also revoked after he was released.

But federal prosecutors say that between February and May, Mendez treated at least 188 Medicare patients, and he wrote more than 100 prescriptions for controlled substances that included oxycodone, Oxycontin, clonazepam and fentanyl.

‘Kenny Chatman kidnapped me’: Read one woman’s human trafficking story

Prosecutors wrote that agents learned Mendez was dropping in on assisted living facilities and asking if anybody wanted to see a doctor. He would then either write the patient a prescription or refer them to a home health agency.

A judge will decide whether he will be arrested again.

HEROIN: Killer of a generation

Mendez is the only co-defendant who has not taken a plea deal in the massive fraud case against Kenny Chatman and his treatment centers, Reflections, in Broward County, and Journey to Recovery, in Lake Worth.

Read The Post’s first story on Chatman: Police reports link sober home operator to prostitution

In addition to fraud charges, Chatman admitted to turning some of his female patients into prostitutes at his Palm Beach County sober homes. Last month, he was sentenced to 27 years in prison and forced to register as a sex offender. His lawyers said he will appeal the sentence.

Prosecutors say Mendez ordered unnecessary urine drug tests for patients at Reflections and Chatman’s other treatment center, Journey to Recovery, in Lake Worth.

Mendez would be the second doctor in the case to get caught violating the conditions of his release. Dr. Donald Willems went back to jail after police discovered he was working in a drug treatment center and prescribing drugs he was not authorized to prescribe.

Willems, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit health care fraud, will be sentenced today in Miami. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

Derek Jeter opens youth addiction treatment center in Tampa

Derek Jeter, the former New York Yankees star who is trying to buy the Miami Marlins, has opened a new treatment center for teenagers addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Derek Jeter in action at Marlins Park in 2012, FL. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

“We understand everyone has bumps in the roads and difficult times we want them to know that there are places you can go to for support,” Jeter told reporters last week at the dedication of the Derek Jeter Youth Addiction Treatment Center at The Phoenix House.

The facility outside Tampa was paid for in part by a $850,000 by the Turn 2 Foundation, established in 1996 by the Yankees captain and All-Star shortstop who retired in 2014 after 20 years in the game and whose No. 2 jersey was retired by the team earlier this year.

The foundation’s president is Jeter’s sister, Sharlee Jeter. Derek Jeter also made a $150,000 donation, raising the new center’s total to $1 million.

Opioid crisis: Lake Worth art and film festival in July aims to raise awareness

A film and art festival aimed at raising awareness to the opioid epidemic will be held next month in downtown Lake Worth.

Set for July 7-9, the Art of Recovery Film Festival and Art Exhibit will feature paintings, photographs and films created by people in recovery.

Manny Mendez, Vic James and Mark Sanchez, co-organizers of the festival, stand by an illustration made by Mendez about people lost to addiction. (Photo by Joe Capozzi)

“It is our mission to restore hope and bring awareness through artistic expressions,” said Manny Mendez, co-organizer of the festival with Vic Guy and Mark Sanchez.

Paintings and photographs will be displayed at the Armory Art Center Annex, 1121 Lucerne Ave. Films will be shown at the Stonzek Theater next to the Lake Worth Playhouse.

Admission is free. Proceeds from the sale of artwork will benefit Restoration Bridge and The Fellowship Foundation Recovery Community Organization.

Local artists are welcome to create and showcase during the festival. For more information, go to the festival’s webpage or call Mendez at 561 889 7230.

“The entire concept and each artistic medium is recovery-focused,’’ said Mendez, who wants the festival to “inspire hope in the lives of many struggling with addiction issues.

He hopes to festival educates people “who are not familiar with the addiction and recovery process” and helps “lift the stigma around addiction

Opioids crisis: Medical Examiner loses key doctor as caseload keeps rising

Palm Beach County commissioners could be asked again this year to add more positions to help the Medical Examiner’s Office keep pace with a rising caseload driven by the opioid epidemic.

A new associate medical examiner and a new technician will start July 3, roughly three months after county commissioners approved the addition of those two positions.

>> HEROIN: Killer of a generation

>> Palm Beach County takes steps to attack heroin epidemic

But the office recently lost a key position when one of its doctors left to take a job with the Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office. That means the new doctor that starts on July 3 will essentially replace the doctor who left, keeping the Palm Beach County’s Medical Examiner’s Office at five doctors instead of six.

“It will be some time before the newly added position will help reduce the examiner workload,’’ deputy county administrator Jon Van Arnam said Thursday in an email to commissioners.

“The number of new cases continues to increase at an unprecedented rate, stressing staff and the system. If this trend continues, it could necessitate us returning to the (County Commission) for additional positions later this year or early next year.’’

Dr. Michael Bell, Palm Beach County medical examiner.

To help reduce the possibility of losing more doctors, Van Arnam has suggested the county’s Medical Examiner, Dr. Michael Bell, conduct a salary and benefits survey.

“Pay and benefits are key factors in our ability to attract and retain qualified medical staff and investigators,’’ Van Arnam said in the email.

At the meeting in April about the opioid epidemic, county commissioners also approved a third position – an executive level drug czar – to oversee the county’s response to the drug crisis. That position could be filled later this year.

“This position is still being developed,’’ Van Arnam said.

“We are determining how to best (use) this position in coordination with key partners including the Health Care District, Southeast Florida Behavioral Health Network, Palm Beach County Fire Rescue and PBSO. We understand the urgency of this situation and will keep you informed of our progress.’’

Last year, the caseload for the Medical Examiner’s Office topped 2,000 for the first time.

“That’s a 60 percent increase in the last two years, which is almost exclusively due to these opioid overdoses,’’ Bell told county commissioners in April.

“It’s not like we’re getting more homicides. We’re not getting more heart attacks, more elder falls and head trauma. This is all due to opioid fatalities.”

MORE: Opioid overdose deaths double to nearly 600: ‘I don’t see any stop’

Got milk? DEA releases drug slang code words

The DEA has released its 2017 list of drug slang code words – the lingo used by dealers and addicts to refer to specific illicit and pharmaceutical drugs of abuse.

According to the DEA, the list “is designed as a ready reference for law enforcement personnel who are confronted by many of the hundreds of slang terms used to identify a wide variety of controlled substances, designer drugs, and synthetic compounds.”

How accurate are the terms? The DEA says it tries its best to keep up with the “ever-changing drug scene” but “subsequent additions, deletions and corrections are inevitable

The list provides slang terms for 24 drugs – some illicit, such as crack cocaine, and some pharmaceutical, such as Klonopin and Xanax.

Marijuana leads the group with the most monikers, including the classics – weed, kush and herb – and some lesser known – Gorilla glue, Green Mercedes Benz and Hairy ones. Fentanyl, a deadly drug rarely seen on the street 20 years ago, now has its own vernacular: Apache; Birria (mixed with heroin); Butter; China Girl; China White; Dragon’s Breath; Fent; Lollipop; Tango & Cash; Toe Tag Dope and White Girl.

As for “milk,” it is slang for cocaine.

Sober Home Task Force raids West Palm Beach treatment center

Wellness Center of Palm Beach is the latest drug treatment center to be raided by the Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force. 

Delray Beach Police Det. Nicole Lucas, a member of the task force, reported the May 30 raid on her Facebook page and asked patients who want to give a statement to send her a private message on Facebook.  No arrests have been made as a result of the raid.

READ MORE OF THE POST’S INVESTIGATION: Inside the Gold Rush

The center is located at 2724 Australian Ave. in West Palm Beach.  According to Florida corporate records, the center was founded in 2014 by Jayeshkumar Dave of Parkland. Dave could not be reached for comment.  A voice message left on an answering machine at the center was not returned.

The Florida legislature tasked Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg with investigating corruption in South Florida’s drug treatment industry after numerous news reports about insurance fraud, patient brokering and kickbacks.

Since October, the task force has made 24 arrests and raided treatment centers and sober homes throughout the county.