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Puerto Rico Exports Addicts to Chicago Under False Pretenses

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A recent news story by WBEZ91.5, revealed that Puerto Rico is exporting many of its drug addicted residents to treatment facilities in Chicago; facilities that are not properly licensed to treat drug addiction and alcoholism. As a direct result, many of these men and women end up homeless and on the streets, fending for their lives as they continue to battle addiction.

Puerto Rico Exports Addicts

Adriana Cardona-Maguigad, an editor for The Gate in Chicago, Illinois, spoke recently with a homeless man named Angel, and found out he wasn’t the only individual brought to Chicago under false pretenses. According to Angel, “Somebody told my family is one rehab in Chicago got nurse, got pool, got medication, when I get here I no see nothing.” After speaking to other addicts in the community, Adriana discovered over the course of just four days, that no less than 93 individuals in the city were also promised, but unfortunately misled, about receiving sufficient treatment for drug addiction.

Cardona-Maguidad assumes the number of people deceived is greater than this, perhaps surpassing hundreds.  In fact, tensions surrounding these claims prompted officials to conduct an investigation for the Center for Investigative Reporting in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rican officials discovered that 758 islanders had been exported between 2005 and 2014; out of that number, 120 of them ended up in Chicago.

Many were addicted to drugs, claiming Puerto Rican police paid for one-way tickets for them to receive full treatment for their addiction in Chicago, and that officials even drove them to the airport.  “We put the participants in our vehicle — a patrol car — we take them to the airport and we do not leave until the plane takes off,” confirmed agent Loribi Doval Fernandez, who is also coordinator of De Vuelta a la Vida (Return to Life), which is a program for helping drug addicts with services needed on the islands.

Lack of treatment received and resorting to homelessness

Even though officials claim to have been helping islanders receive treatment, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have been.   While suffering addicts from the island head off to Chicago under the false pretenses they will receive high quality treatment they do not receive, officials from Puerto Rico claim they are not responsible.  This is because officials have them sign waivers, indicating the island cannot be held liable for whatever happens to them once they leave.

“The participant signs a liability waiver and they are informed and told that this [program] is outside of Puerto Rico and that we can’t do the follow up,” confirmed Fernandez. “There are times when we call to verify but that’s the least we do because that’s then the responsibility of the family member.” This leaves it entirely up to the family to research whether these facilities meet requirements for being an effective treatment center, and whether or not they provide good quality care. This can be extremely difficult for families who are in crisis, desperate to save their loved one, and are not sure what to look for.  

Many addicts were promised by officials from Puerto Rico that they would be going to treatment centers, but were instead duped and ended up in “flop houses … berated” without any medicines, quality care, or real help.  According to DNA Info, 53% of Puerto Ricans arrived and ended up homeless in Humboldt Park.  Is this really how a person should be treated who is suffering from the disease of addiction?

Jose Alvarez, who comes from Puerto Rico and works in case management for Community Outreach Intervention Projects, an organization that deals with HIV and Hepatitis Prevention Programs at the University of Illinois, Chicago, mentioned, “[These addicts] were thinking they were going to have their own room … a nice warm place in the winter [but ended up homeless.]”  It’s unfathomable to think that these people were lied to about the care they were going to receive by those they trusted, only to end up with insufficient treatment that leaves them stranded and homeless in a place they are unfamiliar with.

Puerto Rico exports addicts due to limited options on island

Doctor Angel Gonzalez, an official for an organization in Puerto Rico known as ASSMCA (Skip Navigation Links Administración de Servicios de Salud Mental y Contra la Adicción), spoke during a press release in early January 2014.  Gonzalez addressed claims made about how Puerto Rico exports drug users to unlicensed drug treatment centers by saying, “Given the lack of treatment options Puerto Rico faces, some people, families or entities have opted to transfer people with substance abuse disorders to organizations located mainly in the eastern part of the United States, without getting the information about the qualifications of such centers. There is scientific and journalistic evidence about people who have been admitted into residencies without any facilities or adequate services thus having to leave the services without being able to recover their documents (driver’s license, Social Security cards, voter registration, Medicaid, etc.)”

Gonzalez defends Puerto Rico by stating these addicted individuals are sent to treatment outside of the island because Puerto Rico lacks proper resources for treating these individuals. For example, he explains that most families of addicts have made several attempts at treatment, but options are limited.  According to Gonzalez, there are just six locations on the island where an individual can receive medication for treatment, and loved ones are desperate for addicts to recover.  Gonzalez stated he commonly had heard families cry out, “We tried everything on the island with our son or daughter — help us out.”

This reasoning could make sense when we look at the reality that many people still do not believe that addiction is a disease that can be treated, but rather a choice, topped off with limited resources for licensed treatment centers. Regardless, this is a clear indication that there not only needs to be more awareness raised about the disease of addiction, but that there is a need to provide resources for licensed treatment centers around the world.

No person should have to suffer from the grip of the deadly disease of addiction without proper treatment available. If you are struggling to stay clean and sober, please call The Watershed today at 1-800-861-1768. Hope and healing are just a phone call away.

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