|Published Sunday, Jan. 27, 2002
Florida slashing care for addicts
BY CAROL MARBIN MILLER
In a state where nearly a third of all crimes are drug-related, the Department of Corrections has approved a budget cut that will eliminate the bulk of drug treatment among inmates and greatly reduce the state's program to help drug addicts outside the prison system.
The cuts, expected to save Florida taxpayers $13 million this fiscal year, will eliminate in-house drug treatment programs at all but four of Florida's 55 "major'' prisons -- those that house inmates sentenced to more than a year behind bars, said Sterling Ivey, a spokesman for the Corrections Department in Tallahassee. The four prisons that will continue to carry out treatment all have federal matching grants that partially fund the programs.
The cuts also will reduce by 34 percent the number of beds available to treat drug addicts at 20 residential treatment programs throughout the state.
Nearly one in four prisoners in Florida are treated for substance abuse. After the cuts, only informal efforts such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous will remain in 51 of the state's major prisons.
"Make no mistake: When we get done crunching the numbers, the bottom line will be that human lives will be lost or go unrepaired, and misery will be spread from generation to generation,'' said Howard Finkelstein, Broward County's chief assistant public defender, who battled drug addiction himself 14 years ago.
"These cuts to substance-abuse programs, especially those inside prison, probably will affect some inmates,'' Ivey added.
The cuts will affect eight drug treatment programs each in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Six residential programs in South Florida -- three each in Miami-Dade and Broward -- will lose a total of 94 beds in the belt-tightening; in most programs, beds remain full year-round. The agencies also will be paid 10 percent less for services than their contracts allowed.
An additional nine outpatient programs -- five in Miami-Dade and four in Broward -- will lose funds, and a treatment center at Broward County's Hollywood Work Release Center, where inmates are allowed to hold outside jobs, will see cuts.
Before the cuts, $41 million of the Department of Corrections' $1.3 billion annual budget was spent on treating drug and alcohol addiction problems; $11.3 million went to treatment programs in the state prisons. The cuts will trim $3.3 million from residential programs, $2.4 million from outpatient programs and $7.5 million from in-prison programs.
The number of beds available in community-based drug treatment centers statewide will drop from 1,900 to 1,250, Ivey said.
Substance abuse is an intractable problem among the prison population. For fiscal year 2000-01, for example, 7,300 of the 25,731 men and women who entered the prison system had an alcohol or drug problem, corrections records show.
For each of the last 10 years, more inmates have been admitted for drug offenses than any other charge. Last year, nearly 29 percent of those who entered Florida prisons had been convicted of drug offenses.
In South Florida and other urban areas, drug courts and community diversion programs offer judges the alternative of crafting a treatment program rather than simply incarcerating generally nonviolent offenders.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeffrey Rosinek presides over the county's Drug Court, which in 1989 became the first such project in the country.
He said the number of inmates with a drug problem -- though not necessarily a drug charge -- is actually far higher than one in three. Seventy percent of Florida inmates are arrested for offenses related to their drug addiction, such as burglary or theft, he said.
Prison authorities are so concerned about the potential effects of the budget cuts that they asked Gov. Jeb Bush to restore $5 million of the $7.5 million for next year's budget, Ivey said. The cuts were ordered in mid-January as part of an effort to trim $1 billion from the current budget. They take effect Nov. 1.
For fiscal 2000-01, 17,000 of the prison system's total population of 72,000 inmates were participating in drug treatment programs.
An additional 32,640 offenders received treatment in either residential or outpatient community programs outside prison, according to the Corrections Department's recently released annual report.
The programs appear to work. Of offenders who successfully completed a substance abuse program outside the prison system in fiscal 1998-99, 77.5 percent remained out of prison after two years. Of the offenders who completed drug treatment programs in locked facilities, 70.5 percent stayed out of prison, the annual report says.
In Miami-Dade Drug Court, the success rate has been even more impressive, Judge Rosinek said. Among successful graduates of the program, only 6 percent return to court on additional charges.
The court has been so successful that all but one of the county's 20 criminal court judges have agreed to embrace an expanded effort in which drug defendants return to court every month to be monitored by their presiding judge. The budget cuts could jeopardize both the monitoring and the drug court's effectiveness, Rosinek said.
IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
"How foolish, how absolutely foolish,'' Rosinek said. "Most of these people are coming back to the community; they're coming back home. They'll be in my neighborhood; they'll be in your neighborhood.
The question is: How are they coming home? Will they be coming back in worse shape than they left? . . . Will they still be addicted?''
From her perch on the bench of Broward County's Mental Health Court, County Judge Ginger Lerner-Wren has seen treatment efforts turn lives around. She doesn't need statistics to be convinced.
"As a judge who relies on community-based resources very, very heavily, I can tell you the elimination of these mental health and drug treatment beds will be disastrous,'' Lerner-Wren said.
Kenyatta Myles, a 31-year-old Lauderhill man getting treatment at the House of Hope in Fort Lauderdale, said the program is enabling him to turn his life around after many years of drug addiction.
Myles was arrested smoking crack cocaine in a parking lot at 8 a.m. Instead of heading to prison, he was ordered to live at House of Hope and complete a substance abuse program. Without that opportunity, Myles said, he would be ``sitting in jail, playing cards and watching TV.''
"So far, this is helping me rebuild my life, and my relationship with my son,'' said Myles, a cosmetologist. "My wife started talking to me. My family is coming back into my life. I had burned a lot of bridges. And I'm looking at myself, too, a lot of the stuff I had been doing wrong that I needed to change.''
"I'm not a bad person,'' said Myles, who has been arrested twice, for drug possession and petty theft. "I don't believe I'd kill or shoot anybody. Jail is not for people who have a sickness.''
© 2002 The Miami Herald and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved. http://www.miami.com/herald
|Published Wednesday, Jan 30, 2002
Governor's daughter faces prescription fraud charge
Noelle's problem is a `private matter,' Bush says.
BY PETER WALLSTEN, JACQUELINE CHARLES AND LESLEY CLARK e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Jeb Bush's 24-year-old daughter was arrested early Tuesday after a late-night visit to a drive-through pharmacy at which authorities said she tried to illegally obtain the anti-anxiety drug Xanax.
Noelle L. Bush, the middle of Bush's three children, was held in the Leon County Jail for about four hours after a pharmacist at a 24-hour Walgreens store alerted police that she was using a suspicious prescription.
"This is a private matter,'' the governor told reporters Tuesday following a previously scheduled press conference on Florida's nursing shortage. ``It's really hard for our family. . . . I would just urge you to allow it to be as private a matter as possible.''
Bush and his wife, Columba, also issued a statement earlier in the day that stated: ``This is a very serious problem. Unfortunately, substance abuse is an issue confronting many families across our nation.''
It's also an issue facing decision-makers in Tallahassee, where the Bush administration has been criticized for proposed budget cuts to drug treatment programs in the community and in prisons.
The arrest comes as Jeb Bush campaigns for reelection this year; he has made drug treatment and prevention major themes of his first term.
Bush previously has acknowledged that one of his children had dealt with a substance abuse problem, but he never revealed which one. And Columba Bush has worked on behalf of a Florida group that educates families about drug abuse.
Sources say Noelle Bush has been in and out of rehabilitation programs for years. She has entered an Atlanta rehab center at least once since her father became governor.
A check of Florida public records showed that Noelle Bush has had several traffic citations but no criminal history in this state.
According to a detailed report compiled by the Tallahassee Police Department, a woman claiming to be a ``Dr. Scidmore'' left a voice-mail message about 11:15 p.m. Monday at the Walgreens for a Xanax prescription. The caller failed to say how many pills were prescribed.
Twenty minutes later, Noelle Bush called the pharmacist on duty, Carlos Zimmerman, and asked him if the prescription had been called in. He checked the voice mail, and heard the prescription for Xanax.
"The prescription sounded suspicious and they didn't leave a quantity, so I saved it on the voice mail,'' Zimmerman told police.
Fifteen minutes later, Noelle Bush called back looking for the prescription and he told her there had been no quantity given.
Ten minutes after that, the woman claiming to be Scidmore called back with the quantity.
Zimmerman told police he then called the doctor's answering service, and Dr. Dale Wickstrom called back telling him that Scidmore ``is moving and isn't really practicing now, and [Wickstrom] said it was a fake and to bust her,'' according to Zimmerman's statement to police.
Minutes later, Noelle Bush called a third time asking about the prescription, and Zimmerman told her it would be ready in 40 minutes. When she arrived at the drive-through in her white Volkswagen at about 1 a.m., Zimmerman called the police.
Police listened to the voice-mail messages left at the pharmacy, and, one officer said, ``My observation is that the voice on the voice mail and the voice of Ms. Bush appear identical.''
Bush admitted that the phone number left on the pharmacy voice mail was a second line into her Tallahassee apartment. But she denied presenting herself as Scidmore.
Bush was handcuffed and searched. She appeared "very shaky'' during an interview, according to the account by a Tallahassee police officer, but ``calmed considerably after being arrested.''
She told police that Walgreens had called her a week earlier to tell her that a prescription was ready to be picked up. She said she did not know who Dr. Scidmore was, and she told police that none of her friends was involved.
Bush was released from jail without having to post bail. Her arraignment in scheduled for Thursday.
Neither of the two doctors, Noel Scidmore and Wickstrom, of North Florida Radiation Oncology Associates, could be reached Tuesday.
The early-morning arrest happened just hours before Noelle Bush was scheduled to report for a new job as an administrative assistant at a Tallahassee software firm.
Tom Lynch, owner and president of the 100-employee Infinity Software Development, said the firm called Bush's apartment when she didn't show up. He realized why after learning of her arrest from a reporter.
Bush was to have worked in the human resources department, a job Lynch had interviewed her for after Bush submitted her résumé about a month ago. He said he won't decide whether to rescind the job offer until later.
``I thought she was very nice and very engaging,'' Lynch said. ``But I want to be respectful of her privacy. I don't know the facts. I want to hear from her.''
Noelle Bush has lived in Tallahassee since her father became governor in 1999.
She earned an associate's degree from Tallahassee Community College, after briefly attending community colleges in Miami and Indian River County. She attended two semesters at Florida State University until December.
Prescription fraud is a third-degree felony that carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, but such sentences are rarely imposed on first offenders. Most likely, a first offender convicted of prescription fraud would serve probation, or, ``at worst, county jail time'' of no more than a year, said Howard Finkelstein, Broward County's chief assistant public defender.
The arrest is unlikely to become a campaign issue because even his opponents believe it is a family matter. But one candidate for governor, House Democratic Leader Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, expressed hope that this situation might alter Bush's position on the cuts to rehabilitation programs.
"This is a private and personal matter that I hope will have a positive effect on the governor's position,'' Frankel said.
Herald staff writers Joni James, Carol Marbin Miller, Tere Figueras and Tina Cummings contributed to this report.
© 2002 The Miami Herald and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved. http://www.miami.com/herald