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South Florida has become a mecca for drug treatment amid the opioid crisis. The influx of people seeking help, though, has created opportunities for corruption and insurance fraud. Peter Haden from member station WLRN reports on one illegal industry that's popped up to take advantage of these patients. It's called body brokering.
PETER HADEN, BYLINE: Dillon Katz has been in and out of drug treatment centers and sober living facilities so many times he's lost count. Some were decent. But others...
DILLON KATZ: I walked into there and the guy was sitting at this desk, no shirt on, you know, sweating.
HADEN: The man asked Dillon for a smoke.
D. KATZ: So I gave him a couple cigarettes. He went around the house and grabbed a mattress from underneath the house, which was, like, covered in dirt and leaves and bugs, and dragged it upstairs and threw it on the floor and told me, welcome home.
HADEN: This was a sober home, a kind of halfway house intended to help recovering addicts stay on the right path. But some look at addicts as a payday. A corrupt drug treatment center might pay $500 a week in kickbacks to sober home operators who steer them clients with health insurance, somebody like Dillon Katz. The process is known as body brokering. At her home in Boynton Beach, Dylan's mom, Staci Katz, pulls out three huge binders where she keeps track of his medical bills.
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STACI KATZ: That's just one book.
HADEN: The charges for just one year of drug treatment.
S. KATZ: $391,198.25. You could see by the billing this was very lucrative.
HADEN: There are charges for all kinds of things - nutrition counseling, acupuncture, urine testing.
S. KATZ: When they had charged $9,500 for five urinalyses, I was like, huh, now I get it.
HADEN: State and federal officials are cracking down on fraudulent rehab centers. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced the arrest of 30-year-old Delray Beach rehab owner Eric Snyder. Prosecutors say he billed insurance companies for more than $58 million in bogus treatment and tests and recruited addicts with gift cards and visits to strip clubs.
Dillon Katz was staying at a sober home across the street when Snyder's was raided. He's 25 years old and alternates between an easy smile and a piercing gaze. Dillon was diagnosed with Tourette's syndrome, an attention deficit disorder, at a young age. In high school, he loved acting and music, but struggled socially. It was after high school that Dillon's drug use escalated from cocaine to crack to heroin. And his behavior was off the rails.
D. KATZ: I ended up throwing my suitcase out of the window. And, you know, walking down the street I was punching the garage. My hands were bloody. I was flipping out.
S. KATZ: It was just chaos. And I said, if you want help, then I will help you. We had no idea what we were up against.
HADEN: That's when their drug treatment rollercoaster started. For the next five years, Dillon went from one treatment center to another to another. He says people in his group counseling meetings would offer to help him get into a new place, always asking first, what's your insurance like? He's pretty sure now they were doing it for the money. Patient brokering is a source of frustration for legitimate drug rehab providers.
ANDREW BURKI: Kids are literally being bought and sold.
HADEN: Andrew Burki is the founder of Life of Purpose, an addiction treatment center on the Florida Atlantic University campus.
BURKI: You want like 500 bucks? Sell a friend (laughter), right? I mean, that's crazy, right? But that's, like, literally what's happening.
HADEN: I'm standing outside a Starbucks in Delray Beach on Atlantic Avenue. That's the main drag here. This patio was known as a place recovering addicts would come and hang out when they were looking for a new place to stay. They'd pile their suitcases up right here on the sidewalk, and then body brokers would swoop in and target the ones with good insurance.
Dillon Katz now lives in Port St. Lucie in a house he shares with two roommates.
D. KATZ: Yeah, this is my sponsor's house. We rent from him.
HADEN: They hang out on the back patio, smoking Marlboro Menthols and cracking wise.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Laughter) But he - everything we talk about with him, like...
HADEN: Dillon is doing well. He's been clean for eight months now, and he has a job as a tattoo artist. And he's getting help through a recovery fellowship.
D. KATZ: Any kind of spiritual program. Those - that's the answer.
HADEN: And he says no insurance required. For NPR News, I'm Peter Haden in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
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