In what is possibly an unprecedented collaboration of law enforcement, prosecutors, and members of the drug-recovery industry, South Florida authorities have arrested 28 individuals.
“I don’t think there’s anything like it nationwide,” said Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg. “[Everyone] working together to clean up the abuses and save lives.”
Last year, Aronberg began a state appropriated task force which focuses on studying abuses in the industry and finding solutions.
Soon, the task force of police and prosecutors became a dynamic arbalest to combat the opioid epidemic.
The team uncovered what was once an overlooked area of criminal activity in the drug-recovery industry – paying for referrals.
The practice, also known as “patient brokering”, is illegal under Florida law. Anyone who offers or pays any commission, bribe or kickback to influence the referral of patients to or from a health care provider violates this law.
Armed with the knowledge that patient brokering was occurring regularly, the task force decided to include another set of experts in the field – confidential informants.
The confidential informants could come from the pool of those arrested. They have knowledge of the industry and sometimes of the illegal practices.
One quarter of the 28 individuals arrested have taken plea deals, some of which include acting as informants in order to uncover more criminal activity.
“Going to trial is a huge risk. If someone is being offered the opportunity to escape this without being a convicted felon or spending time in jail, it sweetens the pot for them,” said attorney Gregory Salnick, whose firm represents several of those arrested by the task force.
The plea deals prevent defendants from going back into the South Florida drug recovery industry.
Businesses like recovery centers are paying for referrals in order to gain new patients and run up enormous bills for their insurance companies. Once they get the new patient, there is a payment made to the referrer.
Insurance companies pay the fees, usually lab-related for things like urinalysis performed several times a week.
Justin Kunzelman, director of business development for Ebb Tide Treatment Center in Palm Beach Gardens, sits on the task force, but cautions that the entire drug recovery industry can not be looked at negatively.
“It would be really bad if people stopped trying to get better,” he said. “And if people stop seeking treatment in Florida because they feel like there’s no good place to turn, that would be a travesty.”
The opioid epidemic has addicts from around the globe flocking to South Florida for treatment.
The task force, which operates on a $275,000 state appropriation, shows no sign of stopping until the drug recovery industry is fully investigated and proper referral usages are in order.