TAMPA, Fla. - Emily Rifkin, a promising college student from Pinellas County had a loving family and seemed to be bound for success and happiness. But a downward spiral of prescription drug abuse led to broken relationships, car accidents, and jail.
While waiting for a bed to open in a drug treatment center, Emily checked into a halfway house on Okaloosa Street in Tampa, but she never checked out. Instead, at the age of 25, Emily was carried out, dying of an overdose of Oxycontin. Emily was featured in an Action News I-Team and Tampa Bay Times hour special earlier this year about the prescription drug epidemic. Click this link to read that story: http://wfts.tv/NUYk3l
"It was terrible. It was something that I never experienced before, and really, sitting there, holding a lady 'til her death is something that I'd never thought I'd experienced," said Lisa Goosby, one of the last people to see Emily alive.
Goosby, a recovering addict herself, with no experience in substance abuse treatment or management, had been named 'house manager' at the Okaloosa halfway house and was supposed to be supervising Emily and the other women.
"Basically, there's not too much you can do if you're not professional enough to do it, because I'm in drug treatment myself. I can only do so much," said Goosby.
Emily's sister, Laura, believes Goosby overlooked Emily's prescription drug relapse out of misplaced friendship and shares some of the blame for her death.
While the owner of Emily's halfway house says it was well managed, our investigation with the Tampa Bay Times found a network of shady operators drawn to the business more for profit than any desire to help addicts reclaim their lives.
In one North Tampa apartment complex, we found a cluster of halfway houses under the name "How House" that holds up to 40 men fighting to recover from addiction.
Kieran Knox, a recovering alcoholic who shares a single apartment with six other men told of a grim routine where he's awoken before dawn to spend 12 hours at a labor pool job for minimum wage -- nearly all of which is withheld to pay for rent, food, and other fees.
"They take power of attorney over your paycheck," said Knox.
"I don't want to say too much, 'cause they have the ability to dismiss you at any time. So what I say, I keep that low profile. But I don't feel comfortable with that at all."
The on-premises operator of How House slammed the door shut on our crew when asked for details, but simple math shows the profit potential for places like How House.
With seven residents each paying $145 a week, a unit that cost the halfway house operators $950 a month will take in over $4,000 in a month.
Tampa Bay Times reporter Susan Taylor Martin spent nearly a year investigating halfway houses in the Tampa Bay area and found a Wild West of unregulated operators taking in lots of money, but providing little in the way of recovery programs or support.
"The problem are these smaller halfway houses that can be set up with no licensing and no oversight and literally run by people with serious criminal records. And those unfortunately are the vast majority of halfway houses in our area," said Taylor Martin.
Martin found many of these halfway houses collected federal grant money and were run by people like Matthew Hauschild, currently in prison with a history of cocaine possession and grand theft.
Charles Troy, founder of Back to Life Outreach Recovery Services in St. Petersburg is now in jail for allegedly shooting a former halfway house resident in the head.
Martin found not a single case of a halfway house operator being criminally prosecuted. Even when they violate local zoning laws by having too many people living in a house, they claim an exemption under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Sarah Snyder, executive director of the Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless, says the lack of regulation puts recovering addicts at risk of becoming homeless or returning to jail.
"There are some states that do a much better job of this. There aren't federal requirements, so some of the states choose not to do anything. Florida is one that has chosen not to do much of anything," said Snyder.
Halfway houses run by St. Vincent DePaul and the Salvation Army are considered run and well staffed, but they are vastly outnumbered by the questionable ones.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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