Florida Sober Home Scandals Force Operation Hope To Make Changes

By Britni de la Cretaz 07/21/17

The program was alarmed by the reports of patient brokering happening in a place where some of their clients are sent. 

Scarborough Police Chief Robert Moulton
Scarborough Police Chief Robert Moulton Photo via YouTube

The Scarborough Police Department has announced that, due to allegations of misconduct and insurance scams in Florida treatment centers, they will no longer be sending Maine residents who seek treatment through their “Operation Hope” program outside of New England. According to the Portland Press Herald, since 2015, 105 of the 296 people that Operation Hope has placed in treatment have gone south to the Sunshine State.

“We read about some scams that were going on and we didn’t want to take a chance and be a part of that,” Chief Robert Moulton told the Press Herald. “These places were far enough away that you couldn’t really know what was going on.”

The “scams” that Moulton is referring to are related to insurance fraud; massive networks of patient brokers refer people to treatment using false addresses, and receive financial kickbacks as incentive to do so. Recent investigations by the Boston Globe and STAT News linked prominent people in the recovery community in Massachusetts to brokering.

In Palm Beach County, Florida, the problem is so severe that they’ve created a Sober House Task Force that investigates fraud. In the last year, the Task Force has made 26 arrests related to patient brokering. 

Operation Hope is a partner of the Police-Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI), a network of police departments around the country that seek to help people struggling with drug use to find a treatment bed instead of a jail cell. Modeled after the original “Angel Initiative” in Gloucester, Massachusetts, Operation Hope was intended to be a stopgap until Maine was able to provide more treatment for its residents. So far, that has not happened

A comprehensive investigation by the Press Herald earlier this year documented the many failures of the state when it comes to handling the opioid crisis. Maine waited too long to address the crisis, and policymakers blocked funding at every turn. In fact, many treatment centers blamed their closings on Maine Governor Paul LePage, who has not been a friend to people struggling with addiction. Attorney General Janet Mills had to go around LePage’s office to ensure that police departments had access to Narcan.

“Operation Hope is not the answer,” Moulton told the Press Herald. “Maine needs a comprehensive answer, and this is not it.”

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.