As so often happens, a frantic mother called us about her 19-year-old daughter, who I’ll call Jen. A heroin addict, Jen had been shuttled between multiple treatment centers and sober homes by greedy marketers looking to cash in on the teenager’s insurance benefits by keeping her perpetually in recovery, but never sober. As our investigator searched Palm Beach County for Jen, her mother finally reached her by phone. She pleaded with her daughter to leave Florida, to which Jen replied, “Why would I come home? I have all I need here.” In the ensuing months, Jen has become a victim of a vicious cycle known as “the Florida shuffle.” She has continued in and out of treatment, repeatedly relapsed and overdosed, been on the brink of death, was revived and all the while trafficked by marketers offering free rent and other gifts — as she ignores her mother’s desperate pleas to come home.
Americans know of the carnage wrought by the opioid epidemic. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, opioids caused 91 deaths every day in 2015. Expect a significant increase when the 2016 medical examiner and coroner reports are released nationwide. In my jurisdiction alone, 596 people died from opioid-related deaths in 2016, an increase of 286% since 2012.
Less known, however, is that this growing epidemic has been fueled in part by the manipulation of well-intended federal laws — such as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Mental Health Parity Act — by unscrupulous individuals looking to profit on the misery and vulnerability of others. Fueled by new financial benefits in federal law, private drug treatment providers have flourished, as marketers often push individuals with substance use disorder to the warm weather states of Florida, Arizona and California as recovery destinations. The unethical players within the recovery industry see the addict as a valuable commodity and have exploited federal law to foster a cycle of relapse, rather than recovery.
Today, big money in the drug treatment industry comes through failure. Together, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 and the ACA ensure that drug relapse is always covered as an essential health benefit and cannot be excluded due to a pre-existing condition, and that children remain on their parents’ policies until age 26. This has provided a financial incentive for rogue providers to keep patients of all ages in a cruel cycle of rehab. Meanwhile, good providers who always seek sobriety grow frustrated as patients are poached away by unethical and ineffective programs with promises of free rent and other illegal gifts
More of the laws of unintended consequences.