- Associated Press - Sunday, December 25, 2016

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) - After federal investigators detailed allegations of abuse at South Florida drug treatment centers, state officials plan to tighten licensing standards for the industry, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Florida Department of Children and Families spokeswoman Jessica Sims told The Palm Beach Post (https://pbpo.st/2i5E4Ck ) that strengthening the regulations will help “prevent unscrupulous individuals from taking advantage of vulnerable individuals in the recovery process.”

“DCF has zero tolerance for anyone being taken advantage of and this work will help ensure a more comprehensive review of potential treatment providers,” she said.

The agency also plans to lobby for more authority to begin monitoring sober homes, which currently have no licensing requirements.

Palm Beach County Chief Assistant State Attorney Alan Johnson, head of the county’s Sober Homes Task Force, said he’s thrilled DCF plans to take on more responsibility, but state lawmakers need to give the agency more resources.

“They don’t have the legal staff, they don’t have the investigative staff,” he said.

From April through July, DCF received 241 application requests for substance abuse treatment licenses in its southeast region, which includes Broward, Palm Beach and the Treasure Coast counties. Nine of the agency’s 25 employees dedicated to licensing and inspecting drug abuse treatment facilities serve the region.

DCF added two full-time positions this year to the region. “The department is in the process of developing an electronic licensing system that will greatly increase efficiency in the licensure process and reduce administrative workload,” Sims said.

DCF’s pledge follows a federal probe into sober homes and substance-abuse treatment facilities in Palm Beach and Broward counties. Prosecutors say one sober home operator, Kenneth Chatman, forced female residents into prostitution, promising they wouldn’t have to pay rent or participate in treatment so long as he could continue billing their insurance companies.

A federal magistrate refused to grant Chatman bail Thursday. His attorney, Saam Zangeneh, cast doubt on the accusations in the criminal complaint. “A lot of people who work in recovery are also recovering addicts,” he told the Post. “They may be fighting demons themselves.”

Federal prosecutors said in court this week that they plan to tie Chatman to overdose deaths that occurred at sober homes he operated throughout Palm Beach County.

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Information from: The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, https://www.pbpost.com


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