Watch out for fraud as drug rehab efforts grow

Published 8:12 pm Friday, February 15, 2019


The Advocate-Messenger

Boyle County is making a lot of progress in a lot of ways on dealing with drug problems. But as we develop new strategies and open new doors, leaders must make sure they are proven strategies and useful doors.

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The number of people with substance use disorders across the country has been surging for years. Many communities and good people have responded well, with real solutions that get people off of drugs and help them stay off. But greed-driven scammers have also noticed the drug epidemic.

Where good people saw a problem to solve, scammers saw a way to make tons of money. In communities across the nation, supposed rehab centers have been caught essentially farming drug-addicted people for their insurance money, while offering them no actual help.

One of the worst examples is Kenneth Chatman, who ran a chain of sober homes and drug treatment centers in Florida. Thousands sought help for drug problems at Chatman’s facilities. But according to the FBI, “instead, these vulnerable men and women — many of them young adults who had traveled far from their homes and families — were thrust into drug-infested flophouses. They were given no treatment, and many were abused and forced into prostitution.”

Chatman required urine tests from his “patients” multiple times a week, even as he allowed drug use to run rampant inside his facilities. He would charge government health insurance as much as $5,000 per urine test, pocketing as much as $2,500 for himself each time, according to the FBI.

“Michelle Curran’s 20-year-old daughter, Mikaya, had been receiving treatment for her addiction to painkillers at a legitimate facility until one of Chatman’s centers lured her away,” according to a report from CNBC last year. “There, she relapsed. Eventually evicted from the facility, she shot up some bad heroin, overdosed and died.”

Chatman is not an isolated case. The Orange County Register investigated rehab fraud in California in 2017, detailing how scam facilities actually use recruiters to find drug-addicted people to fill their programs, then suck as much insurance money out of them as possible before kicking them out.

This month in Cleveland, six people were indicted for allegedly billing Medicaid for “$48 million for drug and alcohol recovery services that were not provided, not medically necessary, lacked proper documentation, or had other issues that made them ineligible for reimbursement,” according to the Tribune Chronicle, an Ohio daily newspaper.

“Treatment for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction is vitally important, but these defendants profited off the suffering of others,” the Tribune Chronicle quoted U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman.

Fortunately, we have no reason to believe any of the drug rehabilitation and treatment programs serving Boyle County are frauds. But as the effort to help those addicted to drugs grows — and it must grow, because there are many more who need help — we must remain vigilant.

Boyle County currently funds the wildly successful Shepherd’s House program and just recently extended its contract with the organization. If the county looks to expand its rehabilitation efforts further, it should make sure anyone it partners with is like the Shepherd’s House — operating above-board and running programs that get results.

Leaders shouldn’t get caught thinking simply that any additional drug programs are good, no matter what. Anyone looking to open a drug rehab center, sober home or other drug-related program should be able prove to the community on an ongoing basis that they are driven by results, not profits.