Thanks to the opioid epidemic, more Americans die from overdoses every year than in car accidents, and the federal government is scrambling to try to get in front of the crisis. The House just passed and sent to the Senate a sweeping, bipartisan package of legislation backed by dozens of advocacy groups.
Meanwhile, record numbers of patients are seeking treatment, with admissions to treatment facilities surging 600 percent between 1999 and 2008 alone, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And that has led to an explosion in the number of treatment facilities. While most are legitimate, critics say a patchwork system is allowing some operators to capitalize on the crisis, exploiting patients when they are most vulnerable.
“The system is set up in a way that allows individuals with really great skills with the internet, with the web, with call centers, to enter the field and actually set up treatment centers and prey on families and patients who need help in a way that would never be tolerated, never tolerated in the rest of health care,” said Mark Mishek, president and CEO of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in Minnesota.
None was more brazen than Kenny Chatman, who ran a string of fraudulent treatment centers and “sober homes” in South Florida. But rather than helping patients get clean, Chatman’s facilities encouraged drug use, keeping patients in “treatment” as long as possible in order to collect insurance reimbursements to the tune of at least $16 million.
And when business got a little slow, drug-addicted patients were ordered to provide urine samples for fictitious patients in order to keep the money coming in. Some of the “clinics” even became fronts for prostitution.
“Kenny Chatman saw an opportunity, saw a chance to make a lot of money, and didn’t care who he hurt to make that happen,” Marie Villafana, an assistant U.S. attorney, said in an interview with CNBC’s "American Greed."
That includes addicts and their families. Michelle Curran’s 20-year-old daughter, Mikaya, had been receiving treatment for her addiction to painkillers at a legitimate facility until one of Chatman’s centers lured her away. There, she relapsed. Eventually evicted from the facility, she shot up some bad heroin, overdosed and died last summer. She was 24 and left two toddler sons.
“We received a call from the Boynton Police Department, and I knew,” Michelle Curran told "American Greed." “I remember it like it was last night. It’s hard because you don’t ever want to hear that your child is gone.”
Chatman pleaded guilty last year to federal charges of health-care fraud, money laundering and human trafficking. He is serving a 27-year prison sentence.