On his left forearm, Dillon DeRita had a tattoo of the Serenity Prayer, with its plea for redemptive power. He died at an addiction treatment center in 2016. (Photo courtesy of Rich DeRita)
Dillon DeRita passed away on June 26, 2016 in a patio chair at Pacific Coast Detox in Costa Mesa at the age of 21. (Courtesy of Rich DeRita)
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Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, left, and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas have been engaged in a political feud. (File photos by Orange County Register/SCNG)
Garrett Hade, an advocate for recovering addicts, speaks during a visit to Breathe Life Healing Center in Los Angeles in April. State Senator Ricardo Lara’s legislation, specifying that paying for patients is not allowed, was signed into law last month. (Photo by Nick Agro, Contributing Photographer)
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas announced the creation of a Sober Living Home Accountability Task Force during a meeting in the Costa Mesa Senior Center on Monday, March 12. (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Contributing Photographer)
Stoned and crying in April 2017, Timmy hears a voice. “What’s wrong, why are you so sad?” the voice slurs from a sleeping bag on the concrete near a gas station. The voice belongs to Timothy, a homeless alcoholic. Timmy tells him he misses his 1-year-old daughter, who he hasn’t seen in months. He gets no sympathy from Timothy, who says he’s been estranged from his entire family for years. It puts Timmy’s life in perspective. “I’m sorry,” he says. (Mindy Schauer, Staff File)
Civil lawsuits accused ‘Rehab Mogul’ Christopher Bathum — who ran Community Recovery, a chain of centers in Southern California — of targeting women to prey on their addictions. One suit alleges that Bathum regularly moved women to isolated hotel rooms and remote locations, encouraged them to use drugs with him, and sexually molested them when they were high and incapable of consent. In March, he was found guilty of 31 counts, including rape, sexual penetration by foreign object, forcible oral copulation and sexual exploitation. Image courtesy of LAPD
Suzie Schuder was charged with four counts of insurance fraud and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud in the spring. The owners of a string of Southern California sober living homes and two medical doctors faced insurance fraud charges tied to what authorities allege was a $22 million urine test billing scheme involving recruited sober living residents and alleged front companies that are accused of persuading insurance carriers to pay for unneeded or non-existent urine tests. (Booking mug courtesy of OCDA)
In what could be a first in California, licensed addiction treatment providers will be required to register annually with the Orange County Health Care Agency – and disclose webs of related businesses, such as urine- and blood-testing labs, pharmacies, real-estate-holding companies that manage sober living homes and the like.
For now, the new law — approved Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors after an animated debate — will apply only to unincorporated areas of the county, where just some of the county’s 472 state-licensed addiction treatment programs are located. But the District Attorney’s office, which proposed the new law, wants to take it county-wide.
“This is really designed just as a start, to have the addiction treatment places provide information on affiliated businesses, so if any conflicts of interest exist, that’s out there,” said Tracy Hughes, the deputy district attorney who did much of the legwork on the new law.
“That’s the model skilled nursing facilities use. They have to declare businesses where they own a 5-percent-or-more stake,” Hughes said. “We’re trying to protect people by shedding a little more light.”
The law will produce a registry, accessible to the public, that includes each substance abuse center’s name, business address and state license number. It also will list the addresses, details of services provided and accepted methods of payment for each location; the identity of each owner, director, partner and officer; and the identity of each affiliated entity and affiliated facility.
The debate played out to a stinging political backdrop. District Attorney Tony Rackauckas is in a bitter re-election battle with challenger, and Orange County Supervisor, Todd Spitzer. With the election just three weeks away, Spitzer pointedly questioned Rackauckas’ timing of the new registry.
“Talk about a hoax close to an election,” Spitzer said.
The concept isn’t new. In 2005, California empowered counties with the authority to create registries of addiction providers, though to date no one in Orange or any other California county has acted on it.
“There was only one reason to put that on the agenda and we all know what it is,” Spitzer said.
Rackauckas denied any political motivation, saying his office has been working on the issue for more than a year, has formed a task force to fight fraud and has made more than a dozen arrests. This registry will go beyond the collection of basic vitals required by the state, and help ferret out related business ties that now fester in the shadows.
When Spitzer asked Rackauckas why he hadn’t proposed this registry some time over the past 13 years, Rackauckas turned the question around and asked Spitzer why he hadn’t done so.
Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, stepping into the crossfire, said, “we need something over and above the state requirements. We need to be able to connect the dots between these treatment centers and the drug-testing and urine-testing labs and the sober living homes.”
The supervisors’ action comes in the wake of the Southern California News Group’s ongoing probe of the the rehab industry, which found that dozens of patients have died for want of proper medical care in non-medical facilities that would not be allowed to open in many other states. The series also showed how inexperienced and unscrupulous operators have taken advantage of mandatory mental health treatment coverage required by the Affordable Care Act, and that almost anyone, regardless of education level or criminal history, can open a licensed treatment center.
Addicts with good insurance continue to be lured to the region by operators who promise free airline tickets, “scholarships” that cover insurance deductibles, and cash payments to stay in treatment or agree to a particular kind of treatment.
Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a raft of bills into law that will begin imposing order on California’s addiction treatment system, and Orange County prosecutors charged 11 people in a $6 million rehab-related scam.
When Spitzer asked if Rackauckas’s efforts were spurred by the SCNG probe, the district attorney said his proposal is “not connected to some newspaper article.”
Spitzer also faulted the proposal for including no penalties for failing to register, and for targeting only unincorporated areas, when the state has already empowered county health care agencies to register all licensed addiction treatment businesses.
Rackauckas said he wasn’t against including penalties, and that the ordinance would extend to cities as soon as each adopts the ordinance, which should be within 90 days.
The law will have its second reading at the end of the month.
“It’s not going to cure everything and shut down every unscrupulous operator, but it’s another tool we can use,” said Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff for the D.A.
This content was originally published here.