As the parent of an addict, Ken Daniels explains, the only time you truly feel at peace is when you know your child is somewhere safe. When his son Jamie first went down to Florida for rehab in the spring of 2016, he initially found a place like that.
And there was a temporary bit of peace at the Daniels home.
Jamie Daniels went to Florida to get help with an opioid addiction traced back to painkillers he received after his wisdom teeth were pulled. An innocent enough beginning.
That innocence was gone for good the morning Ken heard a knock on the front door of his Birmingham home last December. He was wrapping Christmas presents the morning after returning from a game in Winnipeg, a shootout win for the Red Wings.
Ken Daniels, the longtime Red Wings television play-by-play broadcaster, spoke to his son that night after the game. Jamie was watching the Red Wings but shut it off after the first period when the Jets jumped out to an early lead. Instead, he ended up painting the wheels on his car with a roommate down in Florida.
“You’re not going to hate it, ” he assured his dad of the paint job. He promised to send pictures later when it wasn’t dark out.
“He sounded great, ” Ken said, nearly a year later.
The next morning, on Dec. 7, 2016, the knock on the door of his home was from a Birmingham police officer, there to deliver the news every parent of an addict desperately fears.
Jamie Daniels was gone. Dead at the age of 23.
“He took something. I don’t know how, or why, ” Ken said.
He only knew the result.
“He never woke up, ” Ken said.
A toxicology report finalized months later would confirm the fears, showing a detection of acute heroin and fentanyl, a synthetic opioid likely taken in pill form.
It was crushing to a family. The news was crushing to a Red Wings organization that treats its employees like family. It was crushing to a hockey world that becomes remarkably small when you’re as beloved as Ken Daniels is among those in the hockey community.
It also took a twist that even a father dealing with an addict never would have anticipated. That turn came in the form of a text three days after Jamie’s death.
Jamie Daniels was battling his opioid addiction during a time when he was also a target. Well-meaning laws in the Affordable Care Act removed limits insurance companies could place on treatment for rehab. It also allowed parents to keep their children on their own insurance longer, in this case, ensuring Jamie good health insurance through Ken while he tried to get clean in Florida and pursue a career in a law firm.
That combination may have contributed to his death.
Palm Beach County, where Jamie went to get treatment, is ground zero for a crisis called “patient brokering.” And young, unsuspecting addicts from the Midwest are often a prime target.
Criminals lure those with strong insurance coverage into their treatment homes in order to run up excessive charges to insurance companies with the ultimate goal of another relapse, to reset the entire process and extend the money-making cycle. The consistent payoff is in the relapse, not the recovery.
It’s called the Florida Shuffle.
“In a predatory model, what is driving this isn’t patient care and outcomes, ” said John Lehman, chairman of the Florida Association of Recovery Residences. “This is a revenue source. The insurance card in the wallet of the kid is going to be milked for every penny it’s worth.”
What was once an area of the country known for quality rehab care — the reason Jamie went there in the first place — has turned into one that has led to nearly 600 overdose deaths in 2017, according to Lehman. Lehman estimates that total would have exceeded 5, 000 if not for fast-acting first responders in the county who are constantly dealing with overdoses.
This scam is now spreading across the country as south Florida cracks down.
These criminal treatment homes go by pleasant-sounding names like “Reflections” and “Journey to Recovery, ” often changing names multiple times to stay one step ahead of anyone suspecting anything illegal.
When Jamie first arrived in Florida, he checked into Beachway Therapy Center, and it was one of the rare times Ken was at peace. He knew his son was safe, because he wasn’t allowed to leave the premises. He knew his son was getting help at a proper facility.
“It was a wonderful spot, ” Ken said.
Jamie spent a month at Beachway Therapy Center and then moved on to another rehab center with a strong reputation called Sober Living in Delray.
Chris Ege, who works at Sober Living, was at the front door when Jamie arrived. Like most addicts coming out of their first 30-days, Jamie looked like someone who was happy, eager for the next step and ready to follow the plan, according to Ege.
“Jamie came in the door and immediately it was very apparent that he was a very smart guy. He is well-educated. He is no dummy, ” Ege said. “Jamie, by the grace of God, had an idea of what he yearned to do, and he was learning the process.”
In Ege’s experience, removing the addiction creates a void in the life of an addict. Time and time again, he’s watched people try to fill that void with something else. For example, some fill the void with exercise. The recovering addict will work out in the morning and then go to CrossFit at night.
“Jamie chose work. He put his work ahead of a lot of things, ” Ege said.
What lured Jamie away from the reputable homes he started with isn’t exactly clear. The streets of Palm Beach County are filled with people trying to find recovering addicts with good insurance willing to switch to their home. According to an NBC News report, many of these homes have “body brokers” who get kickbacks for finding addicts with insurance.
“The predatory model is, we’ll offer this kid free room and board, free transportation and free other stuff because we’re going to get in competition with other predatory providers, ” Lehman told The Athletic. “We’re going to have to up the ante to keep him. Cell phones and scooters and nicer properties on the intercostal with jet skis. … Where is the money coming from to pay the sober-home operator paying the housing, food and other benefits? The answer is [they’ll] over-utilize urinalysis testing.”
The reason why Jamie ended up moving to his final home, Daniels said, was finances. He was sober, getting more and more responsibility at his law firm. He might not have felt he needed the strict rules at the other homes, treatment centers that also come with a price tag that runs around $1, 000 a month.
Jamie’s last house cost $50.
That drop in rate raised red flags back home.
“The first place he was at, was great. They did drug tests. He was there, they looked after him, ” Daniels said. “He got coerced to move out because it was cheaper. I begged him not to go, he decided it was cheaper. … I didn’t know about patient brokering until after the fact.”
That concept was introduced to Ken in a text from Jamie’s last roommate, sent to Ken on the Saturday after Jamie died.
I have so much dirt on the owners I could have them buried under the prison.
Ken said the kid was trying to extort money out of the family, in return for Jamie’s personal belongings. But the scam by those running the house was much worse than that.
Ken Daniels estimates that the fraudulent charges to his insurance as part of Jamie’s attempts to get clean were close to $60, 000. The reality is that his death may be the only reason the total wasn’t higher. One family in the NBC report had their insurance billed over $1 million in 15 months.
Drug tests that should cost $25 would instead cost thousands. A few days before Jamie died, Daniels was billed $1, 500 for a lab test by a provider named “Journey to Recovery.”
In May, the Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that Kenneth Chatman, who ran “Journey to Recovery” and many other fraudulent sober homes, was sentenced to 27-1/2 years in federal prison. Chatman, according to the report, operated several illegal drug treatment centers and received between $9.5 million and $25 million in insurance payments.
The Daniels family worked with FBI and local investigators to try and expose as many people as possible. When reached by The Athletic, the FBI declined to confirm nor deny any ongoing investigation, as is its policy. At one point, Ken said he shared with investigators a photo of Jamie at Joe Louis Arena with legendary broadcaster Bob Cole, taken around Thanksgiving to prove he wasn’t in Florida getting treatment as the dates on some fraudulent insurance claims said he was.
Ken and Jamie Daniels with legendary broadcaster Bob Cole outside the press box at Joe Louis Arena. (Photos courtesy of Ken Daniels)
For many of those closest to Jamie, that Thanksgiving trip back to Michigan was the last time they’d see him.
“He was perfectly fine, ” said his best friend Chad Chaiken, whose close circle of friends use Thanksgiving as a chance to get everyone together. “He hung out with us. He wasn’t drinking or anything, wasn’t using or doing anything that was influencing his behavior. By the time it was Thanksgiving, that wasn’t the issue. You’re having a job, getting your life back in line. You’re back doing your own thing.”
If Jamie made a mistake, aside from trusting someone inside a corrupt house, it was trying to do too much too soon, according to his sponsor, Sarge.
Jamie was eager to do well at the law firm. He was taking on extra hours and work. Sarge, instead, wanted him pushing shopping carts or packing groceries, doing a menial job to focus on recovery rather than his career.
“He was so determined once he got clean to impress, ” Sarge said. “It’s one of those tragic, unfortunate situations. Most people who die from drug addiction have tremendous potential because addicts are the most sensitive, talented people.”
He was also stubborn. Probably a bit naive. But mostly just a kid trying to fight a battle stacked against him.
“We loved him as much as we loved anyone, ” Sarge said.
“He got hoodwinked. He was trusting. He was loyal, ” Ken said. “Jamie was a great kid. As loyal as can be.”
Ken estimated that 1, 000 people showed up at Jamie’s funeral, and it came in the middle of a Michigan snowstorm. That support is part of what helped the family get through a year that has been equal parts devastating and overwhelming.
As Ken recounted part of the story recently in the press box at Little Caesars Arena, he was asked how he got through it all. He pointed to the people around him. His co-workers, the other Red Wings employees, scouts at the game. He had long conversations with Mike Babcock and Jeff Blashill and Ken Hitchcock, among many others in hockey.
Just about every week after Jamie’s death, he heard from the CBC’s Scott Oake whose own son Bruce died six years ago of an overdose.
“We’re both members of a club we would give anything not to be in, ” Oake said.
The Oake family is finalizing plans to open a 50-bed facility open to any addict, to stay for free. Ken is now joining the battle publicly with Oake.
“There are such dangerous drugs out there these days. That’s what cost Jamie his life, ” Oake said. “[Ken Daniels is] not running from it. He’s willing to tell the story in graphic terms and it will benefit a lot of people if they listen.”
Ken is speaking publicly at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday at Henry Ford Centennial Library in Dearborn, sharing the details of Jamie’s death, a story that wasn’t shared initially.
He’s done being quiet about it.
“I think it’s the shame and stigma of addiction that exacerbates the problem, ” Ken said. “People need to know. Don’t be ashamed of it. … Now, to honor Jamie and to know how hard he worked, we don’t want it to go for naught. If we can save somebody else, that’s what we’re going to do.”
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Craig Custance is The Athletic's editor-in-chief for the NHL-US and group managing editor for Detroit, Chicago and Pittsburgh. He's also host of The Full 60 podcast. He joined The Athletic after nearly a decade covering the NHL as a national hockey writer, the last six as a senior writer for ESPN.com. Before covering the NHL, he was an award-winning journalist with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He's the author of “Behind the Bench: Inside the Minds of Hockey’s Greatest Coaches." Follow Craig on Twitter @CraigCustance.