One Life Lost is One Too Many
The brain isn’t the only organ affected by opioids, it also breaks hearts…
In December 2016, our son Jamie, a Michigan State University graduate, was in Florida, seven months into his recovery. He was pursuing a career in law. Tragically, he died after ingesting a lethal dose of a synthetic opioid.
Jamie had a history of anxiety and depression. While he did very well in most subjects in school, Jamie couldn’t help but focus on what he couldn’t perfect, and thought of himself, as stupid. Just before starting middle school, Jamie was diagnosed as having test anxiety, with a recommendation that he be allowed extra time on tests.
"Unfortunately, he never received that, and his anxiety increased. By the time he got to high school, we sought out the help of a therapist."
We believe Jamie was misdiagnosed with having ADD, and was prescribed Adderall. At the time we were reassured that many kids take Adderall to help them feel calm and focus
prior to exams, and it wouldn’t hurt him. We believed it would be safe. Jamie graduated from high school without issue, and went on to MSU. All the while, he continued to take Adderall. Therapist after therapist continued to give him the prescription.
In January 2015, just four months prior to graduation, we learned that Jamie had been misusing prescription medication. We don’t know exactly when he turned to opioids, but we do know they were easily obtainable on campus, and by the time he graduated he couldn’t stop. Despite this, Jamie graduated with a 3.5 GPA in May 2015.
By early July of that year he was in serious trouble. After convincing him to check himself in to a local in-patient treatment facility, where he was treated for two weeks, he was discharged with no long-term plan.
"As a matter of fact, when we asked for referrals of therapists to continue treatment, the response was that we should Google it. Jamie relapsed two weeks later."
A few months after his relapse, we found out he was still being prescribed Adderall, as well as sleeping pills, from the psychiatrist he had been seeing, even after Jamie admitting to him that he was struggling with addiction.
After searching for new help, we finally found a psychologist in Michigan, who, when Jamie hit what seemed to be the lowest point in his struggle, referred him to an inpatient treatment program on the southeast coast of Florida.
The plan was for Jamie to enter into the program for a few weeks. Once discharged, he would move into a sober living home, be routinely drug tested, attend outpatient treatment meetings, find employment and acclimate himself back into society, clean and sober.
Jamie was in Florida for seven months. We had high hopes of his being a success story of sobriety, but it wasn’t to be.
On December 7, just 12 days after moving into a new sober living home, Jamie ingested a lethal dose of a synthetic opioid that included a mix of heroin laced with fentanyl. It wasn’t clear to police at the time, nor to us now, how or where Jamie got the drug, but what we do know is that the house manager did not administer Naloxone, an opioid antidote which could have potentially saved Jamie's life.
It took several months after Jamie’s death to put the pieces together...
With the help of the State Attorney from Palm Beach County and his special Drug Task Force detectives, we have now learned that what has become a broken, billion dollar, recovery industry, often involves corruption and criminal activity. It was this system that took Jamie’s life.
Florida has become the "recovery capital" with over 400 sober living homes in Palm Beach County alone. Many of these homes are linked with outpatient treatment programs, doctors and labs. However, many sober-home owners realized there was more money to be made by preying on individuals with insurance. They would pay anywhere from $500 to $1000 dollars to what have been termed ‘body brokers’. These people befriend and lure individuals into specific sober homes with offers of gifts, or as in Jamie’s case, a promise of rent completely covered by insurance.
"In many cases, drugs are easily accessible to those in recovery, so the relapsed client has to enter detox again and the cycle starts all over. All the while, the owners are charging the insurance. In a nutshell, it is a corrupt practice called patient brokering."
They receive "kickbacks" for each patient they refer and they can keep billing the insurance. With Jamie, the doctor to whom he was sent, a self-described addiction specialist, put Jamie on new medication for his anxiety. Jamie had already been on an anti-anxiety medication for a month. This new doctor prescribed alprazolam, commonly known as Xanax, a highly addictive drug and not one that would commonly be prescribed to someone addicted to prescription medication.
In other words, Jamie was set up to fail. The intent, it seemed, was not to kill Jamie, but to keep him in the system and continue to bill his insurance.
Approximately two weeks after Jamie’s death, we learned that the owner of several treatment centers and sober homes in Florida had been charged with, among other things, money laundering and insurance fraud. One of those treatment centers was called Journey To Recovery. That was the name listed on the last Explanation Of Benefits we had received from the insurance company for Jamie. This man is now serving a 27.5 year prison sentence.
After speaking with Blue Cross Fraud and the Drug Task Force detectives, it was determined that charges from 2 of the 3 sober homes Jamie had lived in were fraudulent. In less than 7 months there was upwards of $60,000.00 in insurance charges for urine and blood tests alone.
It turns out that the doctor he was sent to after moving into his second sober house had been on the FBI’s radar since at least 2013. Again, working with Blue Cross Fraud, we found that three requisitions signed by the doctor were done during the week of Thanksgiving 2016, and we were able to show proof that Jamie was home with us in Michigan and not in the state of Florida.
However, as explained by the Drug Task Force, we had no recourse with either doctor. We could take them to court, but without a well recognized ‘standard of care’ for substance use disorder therapy, it would by our expert witnesses against theirs. So, Jamie’s cause of death remains accidental death by overdose.
"In April 2018, we were invited to share Jamie’s story in front of Congress in Washington. Congress then began an investigation into patient brokering. In October 2018, the Eliminating Kickbacks in Recovery Act was signed into law."
Unfortunately, this hasn’t stopped the practice of patient brokering around the country.
In July 2020, one of the doctors in Florida who had treated Jamie was arrested on a criminal complaint. The charges include conspiring to commit healthcare and wire fraud, estimated to be $700 million dollars. On December 8th, 2020, four years and one day since Jamie’s death, this doctor was indicted by a Federal grand jury, and we now await notice of his trial date.
Jamie had made the decision not to share his history of substance use because he feared the negative stigma with which it is associated.
"Jamie's tragic death and the revelation of the deceit and manipulation Jamie faced made it imperative that we speak out."
It is important to let people know that despite challenges along the way, Jamie was determined to address his substance use, anxiety, and depression. In Florida, he met a Rabbi at a recovery meeting. For several weeks, Jamie would have dinner at Shul, and attend Havdalah services.
After Havdalah, he and the Rabbi would attend a recovery meeting. For the first time since he had started his recovery efforts, he seemed the most comfortable, having found surroundings and people with whom he had something in common. Unfortunately, Jamie was lured away to another sober living home, too far from Shul. He managed to stay in recovery, get a job at a law firm working as a law clerk and begin studying for his law school entrance exam once again.
He made it 228 days. By speaking out since Jamie’s death, it is our hope that we honor Jamie’s commitment to helping himself, by helping others address those challenges.
"Memories of Jamie are now, sadly and tragically linked to his experience with addiction. How he should be remembered is for the loving, kind, and funny kid he was..."
Jamie had a huge heart. He would do anything to help anyone. He was an incredible son, a protective big brother and best friend to his sister, Arlyn and he was a loyal friend.
The opioid epidemic does not discriminate. Everyone is vulnerable. Addicts don’t want to be addicts. Jamie’s story is one of many, but a story that has to be told to help make a change, because one life lost to addiction, is one too many.
Author: Lisa Daniels-Goldman was born and raised in Toronto, Canada but relocated with her family to Michigan in 1998. As a stay at home mom, Lisa stayed busy with her children's sports and dance schedules, while also volunteering at their schools. She later worked in real estate before starting her own baking business. After her son Jamie's death in 2016, Lisa shut down her business and focused her time solely on the opioid crisis. As co-founder of the Jamie Daniels Foundation , Lisa has spoken in front of numerous audiences, including the United States House of Representatives.
To contribute to the CCSA blog or find out more information regarding submissions, please reach out to Ellie Forman at firstname.lastname@example.org