Dave Aronberg, state attorney for Florida’s 15th judicial district, is turning off the music for bad actors in the state who have been dancing the “Florida Shuffle” en route to exploiting individuals in recovery.
In a Thursday morning session during the virtual Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit, Aronberg outlined how his office is leading a two-pronged effort to punish illicit addiction treatment operators in Palm Beach County while getting help for individuals who are trying to get clean.
Aronberg laid out a scenario in which individuals seeking treatment are lured from out of state to Florida with a free plane ticket and promises to cover rent in sober living facilities as they enter what Aronberg calls the “Florida Model,” which consists of detox, residential treatment, outpatient care, time in a sober living facility, and, if all goes well, sobriety.
“In practice, unfortunately, it’s the ‘Florida Shuffle,’ ” Aronberg said. “The only [part of the Florida model cycle] that isn’t monetized is sobriety. It’s hard enough to remain sober as it is, let alone if you know your sobriety will cost you kickbacks, your free money, your rent that they’re paying for you. Now you have to move home to a snowy climate, live with your parents and find a job. Or, you can relapse again, test dirty, and the cycle begins anew.”
Florida House Bill 807, which went into effect July 1, 2017, was a significant step in addressing the problem, implementing marketing certification requirements and strict patient brokering laws, and giving the state attorney general jurisdiction to prosecute patient brokering. Sober homes with patients referred to or from providers were required to obtain certification from the Florida Association of Recovery Residences, and the state Department of Children and Family Services had its oversight of drug and alcohol program licensing strengthened.
In Palm Beach County, Aronberg and his staff convened a grand jury and a task force to crack down on individuals engaging in patient brokering and insurance fraud. Thus far, the effort has resulted in 103 arrests and 46 convictions since November 2016, with additional trials pending.
Aronberg is now advocating for his office’s efforts to be a model to be followed at the federal level.
As for patients who had been exploited by the “Shuffle,” Aronberg said Florida has provided $5 million to distribute naloxone to drug treatment providers to give to the public, and a 20-bed addiction stabilization unit that also provides MAT has been opened in Palm Beach County.
The efforts are paying off, Aronberg said. Overdose deaths in the area dropped by 41% in 2018.