Possible plea deal in the works for Delray Beach sober home operator Eric Snyder

A preliminary hearing in federal court  for  Eric Snyder, owner and operator of a Delray Beach drug treatment center and sober home raided by the FBI in December 2014, has been delayed for 30 days to give attorneys time to “consider whether or not a pre-indictment resolution” can be worked out.

Snyder was arrested on July 11 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, were charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud. The document described how Snyder bribed patients with airline tickets, cash, rent and visits to strip clubs. Fuller trolled AA meetings and “crack” motels to find patients, the complaint said.

The court hearing was reschedule to Oct. 16.

Musclebound millionaire: The Palm Beach Post’s story on Eric Snyder

Snyder Snyder is one of the many drug treatment operators exposed in a 2-1/2 year-long Palm Beach Post investigation that revealed the profits to be made from urine-screening in the county’s thriving but corrupt sober home industry.

Snyder’s treatment center, Real Life Recovery, and sober home, Halfway There, raked in more than $18 million from the $58.2 million in fraudulent claims to insurance companies, including Blue Cross/Blue Shield, United Healthcare, Aetna, Cigna and Humana for urine drug tests and “bogus” treatment, according to court documents.

The profits have attracted the attention of the Internal Revenue Service. In March, the IRS filed a lien, saying Snyder owed $2 million in back income taxes.

Shortly after his arrest, Snyder’s attorney, Bruce Zimet, said Snyder did not “intentionally” participate in fraud.

“Eric has personally been involved in saving many, many lives and making a difference in many other lives of those suffering from addiction,” Zimet said.

 

 

After 30 corruption arrests, how many drug rehabs are left?

Recently released data from the Department of Children and Families disproves claims that the crackdown on corruption in south Florida’s drug treatment industry has caused a sharp decline in the number of treatment providers.

According to a licensing report provided to the Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force at a meeting last week, as of Aug. 1 there were 207 licensed treatment providers in Palm Beach County – up 1 from the 206 providers licensed a year ago.

»»Latest stories on sober homes and addiction treatment

There are another 127 prospective treatment providers in Southeast Florida awaiting licenses, the data show. However, the west coast of Florida has even more applications – 166.

“That means a lot of the industry is heading to the southwest coast of Florida,” said Chief Assistant State Attorney Al Johnson – head the county’s Sober Home Task Force – at the task force meeting.

Overall, there are 3,546 drug treatment providers in the state – up from 3,230 providers in 2016.

The data also show that 140 providers in southeast Florida, including Broward and Miami-Dade counties have voluntarily closed their doors. Another 16 providers were shut down when their licenses were revoked, according to the data.

The Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force has made more than 30 arrests since it began investigating corruption in the billion-dollar sober home industry in south Florida. A federal task force has made 9 arrests.

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.

 

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.

What happens to addicts if Obamacare and the Drug Czar get the boot?

Last week was not a good week for addicts. 

The House vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – could be catastrophic for those with substance use disorders. The Senate still must approve it but provisions in the House version could allow insurance companies to refuse to cover and charge higher premiums for pre-existing conditions.

If you are an addict that’s been to rehab six or seven times – each time covered by insurance because of Obamacare – you have a pre-existing condition – big time. States would have the option to waive an Obamacare mandate that prohibits insurance companies from charging higher rates to those with pre-existing conditions. 

 That means you are going to pay more – probably a lot more – for insurance because you have a very expensive, pre-existing condition (addiction) that has a high rate of recurrence (relapse.)

But don’t worry. If you can’t get insurance because your state opted out of Obamacare’ pre-existing condition mandate, you will be able to purchase insurance from your state’s high risk pool. Guess how much THAT will cost. Bigly.

The House plan also allows states to opt out of another Obamacare mandate that insurance companies must cover essential, basic benefits like maternity care, preventive tests and, you guessed it, substance use disorders. State’s will be allowed to set their own standards. 

So, getting covered for your substance use disorder will depend on where you live and how strong the insurance lobby is in your state, 

I have more bad news.

The Trump Administration’s proposal to cut funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy from $388 million to $24 million – effectively dismantles the ONDCP – also known as the office of the Drug Czar. POLITICO reported the proposal last week, along with comments from Rafael Lemaitre, formerly a senior official with the drug policy office across three administrations. 

“These moves fly in the face of President Trump’s promise to address the nation’s opioid epidemic,” said Lemaitre. “This is an epidemic that steals as many lives as the Vietnam War took during the entire conflict, and Trump’s moves remove some of the most effective tools.”

Trump strategy to fulfill his campaign promise to fix the opioid crisis was outlined in an executive order that created a temporary White House opioids commission led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. 

The drug commission is part of the new White House Office of American Innovation, chaired by the president’s 36-year-old son-in-law Jared Kushner, Under Kushner, the office is responsible for overhauling the federal bureaucracy. 

According to a report by PBS Newshour, the commission will:

  • Identify existing federal dollars to combat drug addiction, including opioids;
  • Assess availability and access to addiction treatment centers and overdose reversal and identify underserved areas;
  • Measure the effectiveness of state prescription drug monitoring programs;
  • Evaluate public messaging campaigns about prescription and illegal opioids, and identify best practices for drug prevention.

The commission must file its report by Oct. 1. Then it will disband. No one knows what – if anything – will replace it. 

Can Negron get sober home marketing bill on the calendar in time?

Hours after declaring the opioid overdose epidemic a public health crisis, Gov. Rick Scott said he was not aware that a bill targeting corruption in the drug treatment industry had not been called up for a final vote in the Senate.

Palm Beach County chief assistant state attorney Al Johnson, left, and State Attorney Dave Aronberg announce that a grand jury has issued 15 recommendations to combat the opioid crisis in Palm Beach County on December 12, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Although SB 788 unanimously passed its four committee stops and its House companion, HB 807, cleared the floor on Monday with a unanimous vote, Senate leaders have not scheduled the bill for a final vote.

Unknown is whether Republican Senate President Joe Negron has or will act on the bill. 

The Senate’s refusal to hear the bill has the bill’s drafters and backers shaking their heads and scrambling. The halt in the bill’s trajectory is also baffling because it is the byproduct of the legislature’s own directive to tighten laws governing the drug treatment industry.

Last year lawmakers gave Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg $250,000 to investigate corruption and propose legislative solutions.

Aronberg created the Sober Home Task Force and appointed Chief Assistant State Attorney Al Johnson to lead efforts to prosecute and propose legislation. The task force has made 21 arrests since October. Johnson held more than a dozen public meetings to craft new legislation.

Those proposals were drafted into HB 807 and SB 788.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Johnson, who is in Tallahasee with Aronberg.

 

 

 

Florida Surgeon General: Why Zika declared emergency but not heroin crisis

Florida Surgeon General said she has not ruled out declaring a public health emergency for the opioid epidemic.

Dr. Celeste Philip said a public health emergency declaration must be linked to an action plan to address the emergency. That, she added, is why the four-stop listening tour she is on with other top agency officials is so important. Hearing how the hardest hit communities are dealing with the crisis will help in creating that plan, she said.

“Nothing is off the table,” Dr. Philip said in an interview after the second stop on the tour in Sarasota on Tuesday. Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi ordered the tour in response to rising death rates and calls for him to declare a public health crisis.

Florida Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip

Asked why she quickly issued a public health emergency when mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus were discovered in Florida, she said it was because it was easier to draft a plan to prevent spread of the virus: Kill mosquitoes that carry it. 

The opioid crisis is much more complex, she said: “We’re dealing with two different kinds of situations. The opioid crisis is very complex.”

In her comments in West Palm Beach and Sarasota, Dr. Philip emphasized the need to educate physicians and medical students about the hazards of prescribing opioids and alternative protocols to manage pain. In particular, pressing medical schools to develop curriculum about addiction and pain management – topics that were barely addressed during her medical training. 

The tour began Monday at the West Palm Beach Police Department, where Dr. Philip, DCF Sec. Mike Carrol and over a dozen other state officials were greeted by protesters demanding action. About 250 recovering addicts, advocates and friends and family of overdose victims crammed into a meeting room at the department.

By contrast, Tuesday’s meeting in Sarasota was quiet. No protests or cat-calls from the crowd of about 100 during the 2-hour meeting. The group headed to Orlando for another meeting on Tuesday afternoon. The final meeting is in Jacksonville on Wednesday. 

Addicts to get needles from vending machines in Las Vegas

In an unprecedented approach to curb the spread of diseases and infections caused by sharing needles, health officials in Las Vegas are using vending machines to dispense clean syringes to addicts.

But unlike vending machines that dispense candy and snacks, no money is needed. Addicts participating in the pilot project scan a card and enter a unique ID number in order to vend one of the colorfully gift-wrapped boxes. Each box contains syringes, alcohol wipes, safe-sex supplies and a sharps disposal box.

Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal

People using the new needle exchange vending machines must register through Trac-B Exchange, a storefront harm reduction program aimed to prevent infectious disease. The machines will be available at three locations by the end of May.

Besides providing intravenous drug users with access to sterile needles and disposal of used ones, the program serves as a gateway to services and care that addicts may not access otherwise.

Justin Kunzelman, CEO and co-founder of Rebel Recovery Florida in West Palm Beach, said vending machine needle exchanges are the “most objective and honest,” harm reduction programs because they are unmanned.

Lawmakers worry that by endorsing needle-exchange programs it will appear that they are helping addicts use drugs, Kunzelman said. To avoid that, they impose conditions on needle exchanges that discourage addicts, such as requiring them to provide personal information, get tested for other diseases and receive counseling.

Vending machines don’t ask questions, he added.

“It’s a machine,” Kunzelman said. “It’s not asking you how many times you have been arrested, what’s your sexual orientation – all of the things that come along inherently when the legislature passes acts.”

Nevada is the first U.S. state to launch a vending machine program for clean syringes, but the vending machine model has been in use for several years in Puerto Rico, Europe, and Australia.

In Indiana, after roughly 200 people contracted HIV from sharing needles, Vice President Mike Pence – then the governor – lifted a ban on needle exchanges in 2015 in affected counties.

Still, many communities and states prohibit needle exchange programs even though they are endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Florida, where Dade and Broward counties led the nation in new HIV cases in 2014, the Legislature allowed last year the University of Miami to establish a pilot needle-exchange program.

But lawmakers refused to pay for it. And everywhere else in the state, including Palm Beach County, supplying addicts with clean syringes is a third-degree felony.

With more addicts dying of overdoses than ever before, some policy makers are warming to the idea of needle exchanges and other harm reduction programs that encourage recovery.

When the Palm Beach County Heroin Task Force began meeting in June 2016, Kunzelman’s efforts to discuss needle exchanges ended when he stopped talking. Today, it is among topics discussed.

At its April 4 special meeting on the opioid epidemic, Palm Beach County Mayor Paulette Burdick suggested the county explore a needle exchange program and how the county might pay for it.

Kunzelman and several other harm-reduction advocates met with Palm Beach County Health Department Director Dr. Alina Alonso last week and intend to bring up a needle exchange during the Governor’s 90-minute workshop on the opioid crisis on May 1.

“They’re still getting used to the idea that current policies aren’t working,” Kunzelman said. “I think it will take awhile.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mass. warns addicts about Florida drug-treatment recruiters

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has issued a consumer advisory, warning of unscrupulous marketers “trying to recruit Massachusetts residents with substance use disorder to travel to so-called treatment centers in Arizona, California and Florida.”

According to the advisory,  the recruiters often use texts or social media to recruit patients. Some offer to pay for airfare and health insurance to cover the costs of out-of-state treatment.

The Palm Beach County Sober Home Task Force has targeted such practices as inducements, which violate Florida’s anti-kickback and patient brokering laws.

Recruiters who target Massachusetts addicts often use texts or social media to recruit patients and offer to pay for airfare and health insurance to cover the costs of out-of-state treatment.

“According to some reports, the out-of-state treatment centers provide little or no care to the patients,” the advisory states. “In other instances, the recruiters have stopped paying insurance premiums, which has resulted in patients getting removed from treatment facilities and stranded out of state without access to housing, health care, or the financial resources to return to Massachusetts.”

The advisory makes the following recommendations to addicts contacted by marketers for out-of-state treatment facilities.

  • Be wary of unsolicited referrals to out-of-state treatment facilities. Anyone seeking to arrange for addiction treatment out-of-state may be getting paid by the treatment center.
  • Anyone paid a referral fee for recommending a particular treatment center does not have your best interests in mind.
  • Be wary of anyone offering to pay for your insurance coverage.  They can stop paying your premiums at any time, which will result in the cancellation of your insurance.
  • If you accept an offer by someone to pay for travel to an out-of-state clinic, make sure you have a plan and the means to pay for a trip back home.
  • Be careful about giving your personal information – including your social security number or insurance number – to a recruiter, unless you can confirm that the person is employed by a medical provider or insurance company.
  • If someone is offering to arrange travel or cover insurance costs for treatment, call the treatment facility or your insurance company to confirm that the person is an employee.