Red Wings Announcer Takes Up Fight Against Opioids After Son's Death

By Paul Gaita 04/18/18

Alongside launching a foundation to help those in early recovery, Daniels is also raising awareness about sober home fraud.

Ken Daniels
Photo via YouTube

As the play-by-play commentator for the Detroit Red Wings hockey franchise, Ken Daniels is rarely at a loss for words. But few sentiments could ever encompass the moment in 2016 that he learned that his son, Jamie, had died from an overdose of heroin laced with fentanyl.

"I guess there's shock, which seems like a half an hour and it's probably just seconds," Daniels told ESPN. "And then he came in the house and he hugged me and he's got that police vest on him, so you never forget that feeling. And then all I could think of was: 'How am I going to tell his sister? And how am I going to tell his mother?'"

In the two years since Jamie's death, Daniels has not only found the strength to go on, but the words to use against opioid abuse, as well as the predatory element of the billon-dollar rehab industry in South Florida, where Jamie had gone for treatment before his passing.

On April 16, Daniels spoke before members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the opioid crisis and shared his son's story, which is also the subject of a documentary on ESPN's "E:60" series that premiered on April 8. 

According to Daniels, Jamie had struggled with a dependency to cocaine and later Vicodin and Xanax before agreeing to enter rehab in 2015. His first attempt ended in relapse and trips to the hospital, after which Jamie made his second attempt at rehab at an in-patient treatment center.

He soon transitioned successfully from a $15,000-a-month facility in Boynton Beach to a sober living arrangement, but after moving to a sober home, Jamie ran afoul of what Daniels called the "Florida Shuffle."

The term referred to a cycle of insurance fraud perpetrated by sober home operators who realized that sizable amounts of money could be made from submitting urine samples to insurance companies, which would then reimburse the homes for the expense.

With the help of patient brokers and marketers, the operators reportedly draw in individuals with substance dependency issues, who submitted regular urine samples in exchange for lax rules and unregulated living situations. 

"It's one thing to have an addiction and not being able to overcome it, because the addiction overcomes you," said Daniels. "But then when bad people get involved and they contribute to it, it's even worse."

Individuals like Jamie were soon caught in a revolving door of entering and leaving rehab environments, which submitted countless unnecessary tests for the insurance money without ever providing actual substantive treatment.

As the ESPN profile notes, he was at one point submitting blood and urine tests every two days, which could generate $4,000 to $6,000 per test for the sober homes.

Jamie also began using drugs again while living in sober homes, and in late November 2016, he was given a prescription for Xanax from a Palm Beach County physician.

On the morning of December 7, 2016, Jamie was found dead at a sober home in Boynton Beach. A toxicology report listed acute heroin and fentanyl intoxication as the cause of death, and also reported the presence of Alprazolam, the generic form of Xanax, in his system.

"Xanax can put you back in the state of feeling on top of the world, and prone to making bad decisions," said Daniels. "Jamie did. He took something he shouldn't have, which unfortunately was all around him in a 'sober' home." 

Daniels has found an outlet for the anger and grief he experienced after his son's untimely death. He's been speaking about addiction and insurance scams to community groups and schools across Michigan.

And he's launching a new foundation named for his son that will help families of young people who cannot afford the first month of a 30-day rehab program. He says he's not opposed to sober homes, as long as they abide by the rules.

"People fare better when they live with their peers," he said. "The last thing someone getting out of rehab should do is go home."

He hopes that his efforts will in some way provide crucial help to a young person like his son whose life depends on getting affordable and reliable treatment.

"Jamie's legacy should be to save hundreds of thousands of lives and make everybody aware of what happened to him," said Daniels. "The more people we can make aware, then I think we do Jamie's name proud."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.