Short-term fix for St. Lucie algae woes proposed

Photo by Paul J. Milette/The Palm Beach Post
Photo by Paul J. Milette/The Palm Beach Post

The Everglades Foundation and Audubon Florida want the South Florida Water Management District to store water on land it owns in the southern Everglades, which is currently being used to grow sugarcane.

The groups proposed the storage plan in a letter they sent to Gov. Rick Scott as part of their efforts to encourage the district to move water from Lake Okeechobee south. Doing so would lessen or stop discharges from the lake into the St. Lucie Estuary, plagued with blue-green algae this summer, they say.

Those discharges must be done to relieve pressure on the aging dike around the lake, which could breach if water levels get too high.

»»RELATED: Will southern reservoir save the estuary?»»

The district is currently leasing the 16,000-acre property, called the A-2 parcel, to Florida Crystals. The lease expires in 2019. After that, the land will be used in a water project that is part of the Central Everglades Planning Project. CEPP projects have already been approved by the Army Corps of Engineers and are awaiting Congressional approval.

For now, the groups say the land could be used short-term as part of the district’s passive water storage program, called dispersed water management. Passive storage leaves rainwater on land rather than moving it into district canals.

Dispersed water projects are inexpensive alternatives to large water storage projects but store much less water. Berms and structures that block water from moving off the land often must be constructed to make the efforts successful.

According to the groups’ calculations, the A-2 parcel could hold 13.4 billion gallons of water, which could provide 10 days of relief from peak flows into the St. Lucie estuary.

On Friday, the Corps and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced additional steps they will take to protect endangered species impacted by restoration projects. The actions outlined will allow more water to move south to the Florida Bayin ways that avoid prolonged flooding of the Cape Sable seaside sparrow.





Should we give addicts a one-way ticket home?

The Palm Beach County Heroin Task Force opened its third meeting on Thursday with a suggestion: Why not give drug addicts a bus ticket home?

(Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)
(Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

Rosalind Murray, a crime specialist with the county’s Criminal Justice Commission, said giving addicts a ticket home after they finish treatment might be one solution to the county’s heroin epidemic.

Murray’s idea was quickly shot down. There are simply too many addicts who come to Palm Beach County for treatment for taxpayers to buy one-way tickets home, the group agreed. Alton Taylor, CEO of the Drug Abuse Foundation in Delray Beach, said DAF’s intake data showed their patients have come from 26 states.


Murray said she came up with the idea after reading an article in the Palm Beach Post about a program sponsored by West Palm Beach that provides bus fare to dozens of homeless people who want to return to their hometowns, if there’s someone there to receive them.

“I think we are overwhelmed and don’t have the capacity to handle the problem,” Murray said after the meeting.

Among the idea discussed: Asking private detox facilities to volunteer a bed to an addict who has no insurance. Only three of more than three dozen detox facilities in the area offered to do so. Continue reading “Should we give addicts a one-way ticket home?”

Palm Beach County’s top 3 plagiarism snafus

Melania Trump’s speech – was it plagiarism?

We realized – as so many things in Palm Beach – that there’s some connection to that issue here, and it’s been in the past year: In just the past year, Palm Beach County has seen at least three high-profile events concerning plagiarism. Here they are:
Plagiarizing principal
Former West Boca High teacher Mark Stenner used vast swaths of two popular speeches for two commencement addresses two years in a row. In the school district, students generally get an “F” when between 15 and 25 percent is taken without attribution.
Stenner was baffled at the brouhaha.
“Using copyrighted material or going word for word for the entirety of the speech. The speeches weren’t word for word, I took large chunks of them. The speech is famous on the Internet, it had a couple of million hits on YouTube, so I didn’t give it a second thought. … If I had used ‘Fourscore and seven years ago’ would I have needed to credit that author?”

And a soon-to-be school superintendent …
Anthony Hamlet, former Palm Beach County administrator and chosen superintendent to lead Pittsburgh school, used words that were not his own on his resume and during his first news conference.
“A successful superintendent has to satisfy many constituencies, keeping high achievers in the system while devoting resources to those who need them the most,” Hamlet wrote in his resume. It came from a February 2015 Washington Post editorial about a superintendent in Maryland.
Also, his issues about school grades.

And finally, ask not what you can do for your city
Steven Grant, Boynton Beach’s mayor, chose a great speaker to inspire his first public speech as mayor. He said he used John F. Kennedy’s famous inaugural address as a guide, got all ideas from him, changed some words around, but failed to tell anybody he did so — until he was asked by The Palm Beach Post.
Some excerpts:
JFK’s words: “For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forbears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago.”
Grant goes on to say, “Let the word go forth from this time and place to friend and foe alike, that the torch is passed to a new generation of Americans, tempered by terrorism, disciplined by technology, proud of our ancient heritage and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of human rights to which this nation has always been committed…”
The 33-year-old mayor is defending himself saying, “I don’t think that the whole having a speech at a legislative session requires me to cite my sources.”

State Attorney’s sober home task force meeting today

In its last session, the Legislature gave funding to State Attorney Dave Aronberg to establish a task force to come up with recommendations on how to clean up the sober home industry.

Today, it’s having its first full meeting, with the goal of driving out bad operators and increasing the quality of care for recovering addicts.

What the group will ultimately recommend to the Legislature is still a mystery, but a smaller meeting of the task force, on Tuesday, laid out what it won’t do. And Chief Assistant State Attorney Al Johnson, which is leading the group, gave it some areas to focus on.

First, what it won’t do:

  • Johnson said the task force won’t be looking at zoning requirements for sober homes (federal laws make that illegal).
  • It won’t be going after drug addicts or good operators.
  • It won’t be focusing on prosecuting bad operators, although Johnson said the State Attorney’s Office is convening a grand jury to look at the overall issue.

“We can’t prosecute ourselves out of this,” Johnson said Tuesday. “We’re going to knock some heads, I presume. We’re not sitting on our hands. We have a lot of tips coming in.”

Today’s meeting is open to the public and will be held from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the community room of the West Palm Beach Police Department at 600 Banyan Blvd.

So far, the task force is looking at tackling four key issues:

Who should regulate the recovery industry?

Nearly everyone agrees that Florida’s Department of Children and Families, which currently oversees drug treatment centers, doesn’t have the resources to do it adequately.

Instead, the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration, which licenses health care facilities, is widely considered the more appropriate department for the job, and the task force will look at whether transferring the responsibilities is possible.

Sober homes, however, can’t be regulated because of federal housing and disability laws.

But the idea is to get them voluntarily certified by an accrediting agency — in this case, the Florida Association of Recovery Residences, which has strict guidelines and requirements for its members.

But FARR doesn’t have enough funding to certify the thousands of sober homes in the state. So one of the task force members proposed having the members themselves fund the process. Johnson said that could be a good idea.

“If we left this up to DCF to license and register, we’d be little better off than where we are now,” Johnson said. “Sometimes when an industry regulates its own, it can be as effect or more effective than government.”

Clearing up the laws

Much of the task force’s focus is going to be clearing up the laws to make it clear what’s legal and what’s not.

At Tuesday’s meeting, lawyers for sober homes said their clients spend a lot of money on lawyers simply to figure out how to operate within the law.

That’s because the laws are confusing, said Mark Fontaine, executive director of the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association.

“The providers want clarity. They want to know what’s okay and what’s not okay,” he said.

How should recovering addicts pay for rent at sober homes?

Current patient brokering laws don’t allow medical providers to bribe patients to go to their business or pay for headhunters to lure patients.

That also goes for the drug treatment industry. But patient brokering is considered rampant in the industry, with recovering addicts often enticed to stay at sober homes with offers of free gifts or free rent.

But it’s not really free. In some cases, the addict has to go to a particular outpatient therapy during the day, which charges the person’s insurance. Or the sober home simply wants the addicts in the home so it can make money drug-testing them.

Johnson proposed a radical idea: make it legal for treatment centers to pay for an addicts’ rent at a certified sober home.

That would accomplish two things: good sober homes would automatically have a leg up on the bad actors, because they’d be certified, and bad actors would be encouraged to clean up their act and get certified.

How should sober homes be marketed?

This is another gray area.

Fontaine wanted to know if anything could be done about treatment centers or sober homes that falsely advertise their services or facilities. He said he spoke to one addict’s mother, for example,

And there’s another area of marketing that is a source of concern. Many sober home and treatment center operators will pay people, known as “marketers,” to bring in patients, which is illegal.

But the industry wants that cleared up, too. Attorney Jeffrey Lynne said licensed interventionists are worried about how they can be paid for their work without violating the patient brokering laws.

“That’s what their job is, to do intake and where to place someone,” Lynne said. “Their whole profession has been tainted by this concept of marketing.”

Frankel, Rubio call for federal review of sober home oversight

Congresswoman Los Frankel and Sen. Marco Rubio have joined a bipartisan call for a review of federal and state oversight of sober homes.

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel
U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel

“Sober homes are supposed to be the last step in addiction recovery, where individuals prepare to transition back into the community,” Frankel said last week in a letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

“Sadly, in too many cases, sober homes are failing both the patients and the communities in which they live. Information from GAO will help us crack down on abusive sober homes and protect those in recovery.”

Frankel’s letter was co-signed by Congressman Chris Stewart (R-UT). Their letter follows a similar request sent to the GAO on June 2 by Rubio and Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT).

The letters ask GAO for the number of sober homes in each state, how many individuals they serve, how they can be regulated at each level of government, how effective their services are, and their relationship with Medicaid and other federally-funded healthcare programs.

Frankel’s letter can be read by clicking this link: congressional_letter_to_gao_on_sober_homes.

The letter was also signed by Reps. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Ken Calvert (R-CA), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Ed Royce (R-CA), Bill Keating (D-MA), Darrell Issa (R-CA), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), Rob Bishop (R-UT), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), Seth Moulton (D-MA), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), and Mia Love (R-UT).



How many addicts is too many to treat?

Physicians who prescribe buprenorphine to treat opioid addiction will no longer be limited to 100 patients. Under a rule change announced during a White House press conference on Tuesday, the new rule increases from 100 to 275 the number of patients that qualified physicians can treat.

Hypodermic needles mixed with cigarette butts and empty prescription bottles filled garbage bags recovered from a cottage apartment rented by Jean Thomas, 83, in West Palm Beach's Prospect Park neighborhood. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)
(Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

The announcement came as lawmakers today consider the President’s request for $1.1 billion to address the nation’s opioid epidemic, fueled largely by cheap heroin laced with the powerful painkiller fentanyl. Opioid overdoses kill 129 people every day in the U.S.

Buprenorphine, also known by the brand names Suboxone and Subutex, is among a handful of drugs that block the high produced by heroin and other opioids, such as Percocet and Oxycodone, and prevent the addict from suffering the painful side-effects of withdrawal.

These drugs – if misused – can produce a high. To prevent “diversion” – using the drugs to get high rather than to wean an addict off opioids – qualified physicians were only allowed to treat 100 patients with the drugs.

Critics claim that medication-assisted treatment with drugs such as buprenorphine still leave addicts dependent on a drug. They question whether a physician can adequately care for 275 addicts at once and fear buprenorphine clinics may become the new pill mills.

Still, providers, policymakers and experts have pointed to the current 100 patient limit as a barrier to treatment. Administration officials estimate the increased limit coupled with the President’s $1.1 billion budget request will enable 70,000 addicts to access treatment next year.

Under the President’s budget proposal, Florida would be eligible for up to $47 million dollars over 2
years to expand access to treatment. However, the final amount the state could receive depends on congressional approval of the budget and the strength of the State’s application and plan to combat the epidemic.

Florida lawmakers have expressed little interest in addressing the state’s heroin epidemic even though the state – especially south Florida – is considered the recovery capital of the U.S. A Palm Beach Post investigation of the county’s drug-treatment industry revealed evidence of patient-brokering, insurance fraud and kickbacks.

This year lawmakers reluctantly approved a bill that would allow researchers at a Miami hospital to operate a needle exchange program and shot down efforts to control unethical marketing practices in the billion-dollar drug treatment industry.

The homepage of the State’s Dept. of Health is devoted to controlling the spread of the Zika virus. Its “Programs and Services” menu makes no mention of addiction services.

Still unresolved is how uninsured addicts who wish to get clean will find in-patient beds during the initial detox procedure – which takes an estimated 7-10 days. Administration officials said Tuesday that grants will enable communities to develop programs to provide such care.

In Palm Beach County, the Drug Abuse Foundation in Delray Beach is the primary provider of in-patient detox beds for addicts who have no insurance and cannot afford to pay for detox. There is often a waiting list for those beds.