Paramedics keep boxes of naloxone hydrochloride on board to treat patients suffering from heroin overdose. Staff photo by Robert Franklin
Paramedics keep boxes of naloxone hydrochloride on board to treat patients suffering from heroin overdose. Staff photo by Robert Franklin
On the streets and beaches, their fresh faces, backpacks and luggage make them easy marks for the “marketers.”

If they have private health insurance, they’re offered free rent, food, clothes and Xbox to stay in a “sober home.” From there, they’re steered to a treatment center, first for detox, then for intensive outpatient treatment. Sober home operators receive cash kickbacks from treatment providers for the referrals.

It’s called “patient brokering,” it’s illegal, and it’s part of an insurance fraud scheme that’s exacerbating South Florida’s heroin epidemic.

Opioid addiction is killing people at record rates nationally, but here especially, the numbers are staggering: 588 drug overdose deaths in Palm Beach County in 2016, up 91 percent from 2015 and nearly triple the 149 deaths in 2012.

“Thought there was a slowing down, but we have 10 drug overdose deaths today,” the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner Office tweeted March 17. “Must be a bad batch of drug out there. You’ve been warned.”

Drug overdose deaths have also steadily increased here in St. Joseph County in recent years, sometimes outnumbering murders and fatal auto crashes combined. County figures show that 72 people died of overdoses in 2016, compared to 26 in 2012. Of those deaths, the bulk have been attributed to opiates such as heroin, oxycodone and fentanyl.

The city of Delray Beach, where South Bend area native Adam Dyczko died from an overdose March 7, forced a Starbuck’s to close its patio because so many marketers were approaching addicts there.

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