Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has created a task force to attempt to clamp down on outlaw addiction services clogging neighborhoods in the county’s “Rehab Riviera.”
Rackauckas’ announcement Monday night of the new “Sober Living Home Accountability Task Force” follows an ongoing investigation by the Southern California News Group that found deaths, sexual assaults, drug use and paying-for-patients inside the state’s loosely-regulated treatment centers and sober living homes.
For nearly a decade, neighborhoods in many of Orange County’s coastal cities have been overrun by addiction facilities that often are fronts for illegal activities.
“What I’m seeing is a lot of (providers) who used to be addicted to dope are now addicted to money,” said Nancy Clark, who runs a recovery business in Orange County, at a hearing hosted Monday in Costa Mesa by Rackauckas.
Rackauckas said the new team, formed about a year after the Register investigation started, would look at whether the addiction business is running afoul of insurance fraud laws and human trafficking statutes. The team would also explore other potential legislation and push to get it passed — a feat that several state lawmakers have been unable to do.
Although one audience member implied that Rackauckas was grandstanding, the district attorney — who is running for re-election — stressed that he would try to “clean this mess up.”
Costa Mesa Police Chief Rob Sharpnack speaks at a meeting in which Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas announced the creation of a Sober Living Home Accountability Task Force. (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Contributing Photographer)
The Southern California News Group investigation found that destitute and homeless addicts can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to unscrupulous rehab centers, where those addicts often are bought, sold and exploited for their insurance payments. The addiction industry is rife with kickbacks, drug use and fraud that bleeds millions from insurers’ and private pockets.
Some addicts are imported from other states with free travel and treatment “scholarships,” only to die in non-medical centers that would not be allowed to open in other states. Some are signed up for health insurance via Covered California with false information; treatment centers then pay the addicts’ premiums and bill insurance companies hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The treatment often fails to help addicts find lasting sobriety.
In the wake of Southern California News Group’s reporting, lawmakers are calling for stricter oversight. Hearings on the troubled industry have been held in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., and bills have been introduced by several lawmakers.
The state could take several simple steps to improve care, critics have said, including:
— Requiring a medical exam before an addict enters treatment.
— Determining which placement is appropriate.
— Requiring the state to license and conduct background checks on addiction counselors (now, an outside agency “certifies” them).
— Making body-brokering — the selling of patients to the highest bidder — a felony so prosecutors are willing to pursue those cases.
— Cracking down on false and misleading advertising.