No longer bemoaned as being too lax when it comes to policing the addiction treatment business, Florida is now setting a precedent for other states. Gov. Rick Scott signed a comprehensive bill this week that will reduce unethical practices and help officials snare the droves of profiteers and criminals that are exploiting vulnerable families.
As you probably remember, a grand jury and a special task force helped to shape the policy, which will take effect July 1. It strengthens some existing statutes, especially in regard to patient brokering, and adds new measures to combat marketing misdeeds.
Penalties for patient brokering scale up to a first-degree felony plus a $500,000 fine when the violation includes 20 or more patients. New mandates require that treatment centers only refer clients to sober homes that are certified by the state, and after June 30, 2019, centers can be fined $1,000 for every referral made to an uncertified sober home. Now that’s a policy with some teeth.
Perhaps one of the most impactful changes in daily operations will be the broader regulatory powers given to the state’s Department of Children and Families (DCF). For example, DCF will have more leeway to inspect treatment facilities (with or without advanced notice) and take action against providers. It will also be required to conduct background checks on various people involved in operating the facilities as well.
This is good policy that will begin to tidy up the market over time. State Attorney Dave Aronberg commented in May that the state’s sober homes task force had already made 26 arrests. No doubt there are more to come, but they won’t necessarily come easily.
While the new Florida policy prohibits deceptive marketing—and enacts criminal penalties for doing so—unsavory marketers are notoriously difficult to track down. It’s still not that hard for bad guys to evade discovery, thanks to the relative anonymity of the internet and toll-free numbers. What’s more, sources have told me about “burner” websites that are here today and gone tomorrow, just like the throw-away mobile phones known to be used by drug dealers.
It will be an ongoing challenge to catch the marketers but well worth the effort.
I’m certain the new statute will be used as a model for other states. Consider the fact that 75% of patients in treatment in Florida arrive there from other states, so with Florida cracking down, it’s not hard to imagine the Kenny Chapmans of the world simply moving their shady operations to your state instead. You have an opportunity to get out in front of this one by talking to officials about improving local policy.