Sunday, April 21, 2024

Sober House bill in the works and other news of note


Sobering news

       During the session that starts next week, the Legislature will consider another bill that could help cities plagued by badly run sober houses. One worry, however, is that the bill came too late. Another is that the Legislature may not want to deal with the issue two years in a row.

       Senate Bill 1138 and House Bill 823 are not identical, but both seek to crack down on marketing that advertises sober houses as more like Caribbean resorts than places where those leaving drug and/or alcohol treatment live as they try to re-enter society. Hager’s House district includes Boca Raton and Delray Beach, which in different ways have tried and failed to deal with the proliferation of sober houses. Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein has said some neighborhoods in his city are “under siege.”

       For the first time last year, the Legislature passed a bill that went after operators of sober homes that prey on recovering addicts and cause collateral damage to neighborhoods. Starting in July, state-licensed drug treatment centers can refer patients only to sober homes that have registered with the state. Self-described recovery residences are an unregulated industry, so registration remains voluntary. The hope is that the rule will compel all sober house owners to raise standards or risk losing money.

       The theory behind the new legislation is that bad operators market most aggressively, promising free rent and other perks to potential residents and offering kickbacks for referrals. Some operators use call centers.

       Behind the shady marketing pitches is the potential windfall from urine testing of residents. Bad operators test far more than necessary, and then submit the bills to insurers for reimbursement. Cluster enough residents, and the fraudulent payoff can be huge. The Palm Beach Post reported how one man turned a West Palm Beach condo complex into a sober home complex.

  The legislation actually is consumer-based. Bad operators don’t help recovering addicts; they prey on them. Clemens and Hager note that this is a “vulnerable” portion of the population, subject to manipulation. Those who have come from the Northeast or Midwest for treatment may be far from family members or another support group. Some sober houses wring out all the money possible before dumping a tenant on the street.

       But bad sober houses also damage the neighborhoods in which they operate. At bad houses, visitors came and go at all hours, and the living isn’t clean and sober. Single-family neighborhoods are supposed to be business-free.

       Clemens and Hager are acting for Boca and Delray because the cities have no legal means to respond. Each has lost a lawsuit that stemmed from an attempt to regulate where sober houses may operate. In 1999, the Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development stated that the Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits restrictions on where recovering addicts can live. That well-intentioned finding did not anticipate the level of chicanery that has followed.

       Glickstein said of the legislation, “I haven’t seen the details, but we did discuss it, and I think it would be helpful. It also forces people to do more due diligence that may push them to understand the difference between registered and unregistered sober homes.”

       Unfortunately, the legislative session starts in a week. The bill has had no committee hearings. So it will begin at a standing start. Other bills already are moving.

       More communities in Florida, however, are dealing with what Boca and Delray have faced for more than a decade. Clemens is a Democrat and Hager is a Republican, but this issue might be the most bipartisan in Florida. Passing this legislation would help the cities while they wait for the ultimate help from the federal government.

And more on the drug crisis

       Statistics released last month by the White House underscore the depth of the nation’s drug problem and thus the benefits possible for businesses that treat the addicted.

       According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, drug overdoses kill more Americans annually than traffic accidents. The Centers for Disease Control and Addiction report “continued sharp increases in heroin-involved deaths. . .” That finding will surprise no one in Delray Beach and Boca Raton who deals with the opioid problem. The prescription painkiller addicts of the last decade are the heroin addicts of this decade.

       Here’s another number: In 2012, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioids such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and methadone. The White House says 80 percent of heroin users first got hooked by misusing opioids for pain.

       The White House announced a series of “community forums” on the opioid problem, which South Florida exported to the Midwest before law enforcement in Palm Beach and Broward counties began shutting down pill mills. Delray Beach or Boca Raton would be a great setting for one of those events.


According to the program, the United States’ most experienced Middle East diplomat—Dennis Ross—is the featured speaker Wednesday night at the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County’s event for major donors. According to the news, the first speaker is more topical.

       That would be Alan Gross, the American aid worker whom the Cuban government imprisoned from 2009 until 2014. Gross’ freedom was part of the deal that reopened diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

       Sadly, there is no movement on a deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Ross will speak to that as he discusses his new book “Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.- Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama.” But there is plenty of debate about the opening to Cuba.

       The two countries have reopened embassies for the first time in more than half a century. South Florida is both the center of opposition to that reopening and the center of opportunity. Carnival wants to start cruises from Miami in May. JetBlue is offering service from Fort Lauderdale and Tampa. The stakes are higher in the Middle East, but the momentum for now is toward Cuba.

About the Author

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.


Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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