Related story: Two municipalities strengthen group-homes ordinances
By Mary Hladky
New laws and funding are in place to crack down on the addiction treatment industry and fight the opioid crisis in Florida.
Gov. Rick Scott on June 26 signed into law wide-ranging legislation introduced by state Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, and state Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, intended to halt patient brokering and deceptive marketing.
Provisions of the legislation, consolidated under Hager’s version of the bill, include:
• Prohibiting service providers and sober home operators from engaging in deceptive marketing and enacting criminal penalties for violations.
• Increasing penalties for patient brokering and adding patient brokering to the list of offenses that the Office of Statewide Prosecution may pursue.
• Giving new powers to the state Department of Children and Families to regulate treatment centers. DCF will draft rules on administrative and clinical standards by January, and licensing fees will be increased substantially to pay for the increased regulation.
“I’ve seen firsthand the deplorable conditions that some of these (sober home) residents live in, which cause havoc in their neighborhoods,” Hager said in a statement. “With this new legislation, law enforcement will have more tools in which to arrest and subsequently prosecute bad actors.”
Scott also signed into law tough penalties for possession of fentanyl, a painkiller as much as 100 times more potent than morphine, and similar synthetic opioids. Heroin is often cut with fentanyl, making it far more deadly. Synthetic opioids are added to the list of drugs that can result in a dealer’s being charged with murder if the buyer dies.
Another bill that is now law enhances collection of overdose data by allowing emergency medical technicians and paramedics to report overdoses to the Florida Department of Health. In addition, it requires hospital emergency departments to establish overdose policies.
Also signed into law is a bill that requires prescriptions filled for controlled substances be entered into a state prescription monitoring database by the end of the next business day. One of its original provisions that would have limited the initial amount of opioids prescribed to a five-day supply was stripped from the final bill.
Three legislative appropriations survived a fierce battle between Scott and legislators over the state budget.
The Sober Homes Task Force, launched last year with $250,000 in state funding by Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg to investigate allegations of fraud and abuse within the drug treatment industry and propose solutions, will continue its operations for another year.
Lawmakers appropriated $300,000 to keep the task force in business.
Many key task force recommendations were incorporated into the legislation drafted by Hager and Clemens. The task force’s law enforcement arm has been responsible for the arrests of nearly 30 people on charges of insurance fraud or patient brokering.
“The task force is now on track to continue its work through June of 2018,” said Chief Assistant State Attorney Al Johnson, who heads the task force.
The Legislature also appropriated $500,000 for the county’s Opioid Abuse Pilot Program launched early this year. The program offers people who overdose support services after they leave the emergency room at JFK Medical Center in Atlantis.
The Florida Association of Recovery Residences, a nonprofit that oversees voluntary inspection and certification of sober homes for the state, was not fully funded.
The Legislature appropriated $100,000, but FARR had requested $275,000. Last year, lawmakers allocated no money to FARR, forcing it to seek donations and loans.
“The question is, how do we fulfill the mandate properly without adequate financial support?” CEO John Lehman asked in an email.
FARR was expected to move its offices from Boca Raton to Lantana on July 1 to save money. Supporters, including addiction treatment centers Treatment Partners of America in Boca Raton and Hanley Center in West Palm Beach, are planning to host fundraising events, Lehman said.
That will help FARR bridge the gap until it becomes self-supporting through fees charged for certifications.