Drug-treatment centers moving out of Palm Beach County, officials say
Drug-recovery businesses are moving to other parts of Florida as a crackdown in Palm Beach County leads to dozens of arrests, prosecutors say.
“What we’re seeing is a lot of these unscrupulous places are packing up and moving elsewhere, which may be good for Palm Beach County, but we’re all in this together,” said Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg, who leads the county’s Sober Homes Task Force.
Providers are moving as far away as Arizona and California, but also elsewhere within the state, including the Tampa Bay area, Aronberg said.
It’s likely that a steady stream of new, high-quality providers are stepping into Palm Beach County to fill the void left by those who were criminally charged, he said.
“You’re going to likely be a provider with an intent to do good as opposed to profiting off the misery of others,” he said.
Southeast Florida has seen a slight rise in the number of licenses issued to drug-treatment providers and sober-home operators over the past year, rising from 546 in 2016 to 570 in 2017, according to state records obtained by prosecutors.
Of a seven-county region in southeast Florida, Broward County saw the largest rise in drug-treatment licenses issued, rising from 115 to 132, the records show.
But state records don’t reflect whether drug-treatment businesses opening across Florida previously operated elsewhere.
Though state law enforcement agencies do not keep a database of where businesses relocate, authorities say they are finding out about relocations through their peers in the recovery industry.
Meanwhile, the state has some numbers demonstrating turnover in the industry, Aronberg said.
The licenses of 16 providers were suspended, and nearly 140 providers voluntarily gave up their licenses in Broward and Palm Beach Counties, as well as counties north of Palm Beach County in the Treasure Coast, records show.
Authorities in Broward say they hope crackdowns help do away with unscrupulous operators while leaving opportunities for upstanding businesses to thrive.
David Scharf, executive director of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office Department of Community Programs, said there are “many professional and tremendous treatment providers, sober-home operators and others in our community who provide valuable and much-needed treatment and services to this at-risk and vulnerable population.”
Armed with a $275,000 state appropriation, Aronberg last year began the Palm Beach County task force, which consists of prosecutors and police to study abuses in the industry and find solutions. The task force has gone on to pursue charges against many drug-treatment providers.
Of the 34 arrested by the task force over the past year — all from Broward and Palm Beach counties — 27 have faced charges related to “patient brokering.” Under Florida law, it is illegal for anyone to offer or pay any commission, kickback or bribe to promote the referral of patients to or from a health care provider.