Sober Living Homes Are Too "Clean"

By Anne M. Fletcher 07/21/13

I was heartened by Matthew Perry's openness about addiction—but then dismayed by his sober living home's backward thinking on maintenance drugs. Such policies are illegal, as well as unethical.

perry sober house.png
Matthew Perry's heart may be in the right place—but his sober living home's MAT
policies are not.

When people tell me stories about sober homes and their restrictive policies about medication-assisted treatment (MAT)—specifically, denying access to those who use Suboxone and methadone—I feel the way Peter Finch did in the 1976 film Network, when he implored viewers to shout, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

While writing my book Inside Rehab, and in queries I continue to receive, I found that people are all too often denied or never offered the very medications that studies show will help them remain in recovery. Consider the recent death of 31-year-old Cory Monteith, attributed to a toxic heroin-alcohol combo. While we don’t know for certain about his aftercare plans, he reportedly went to two rehabs (Betty Ford and Crossroads) that told me they don’t send patients home on MAT. But that’s what rehab and sober living facilities should be all about: helping people stay sober. 

When I saw Matthew Perry’s recent “My Life as an Addict” story on the cover of People, I was pleased that yet another celebrity had “come out” about his past troubles with alcohol and drugs, and shared the good news about turning his life around.

I heard about sober homes that engaged in such degrading rule-violation policies as making clients wear signs around their necks or sit on crates.

Better still, Perry has put his name behind important causes, becoming a “passionate advocate” for drug courts and having recently turned his Malibu mansion into an exclusive sober living home, offering 12-step workshops, home-cooked meals, 24-hour on-site management and regular drug testing.

However, my positive vibes turned to dismay when, after checking out the plush Perry House at its website, I sent in a query via their “contact” page, asking whether they admit residents on addiction medications, specifically mentioning Suboxone and methadone, which are important for opioid addiction—and not just for “detox”, but for many people on a long-term basis. The response I received was as follows: 

“We would not allow Suboxone or methadone since they would ‘pee dirty’ for opiates. … Anything that makes a UA come up positive would be a problem.”

So I wrote back to the manager, indicating that if they chose to do things differently, they could be leaders in the sober housing field. I also shared the following (and got no response): 

“It's unfortunate when this is denied, because dozens of studies have shown that Suboxone and methadone not only decrease the chance of relapse but they lower death rates in opioid addiction. I'm wondering how many places know that it's really illegal to deny people on MAT sober housing. This is stated in a government brochure available from SAMHSA's website:

p. 13: "The Fair Housing Act (FHA) makes it illegal to discriminate in housing and real estate transactions because of someone’s disability. People in MAT are protected from housing discrimination under the FHA—just as are people with other disabilities. … Housing discrimination related to MAT sometimes arises in the context of residences for individuals in recovery. Individuals who live or want to live in halfway houses, recovery homes or other residences for individuals in recovery are sometimes excluded because of their participation in MAT. This is illegal even though this type of discrimination occurs with some frequency." 

Lord knows we need more well-run sober living facilities. As a recent Salon report found, sober homes are largely unregulated and often present poor living conditions. Their policies and management can be highly variable, with some run like boot camps.

While researching my book, I heard about sober homes that engaged in such degrading rule-violation policies as making clients wear signs around their necks or sit on crates. And it’s not unusual for clients to be required to go to 12-Step meetings when they should be allowed to choose their own form of support. There do not appear to be any standards for managers or staff either, who may simply be people in recovery, with no training or knowledge beyond that. The rights of individuals applying to live in or who are already residing in sober living facilities need protection against discrimination, abuse, and arbitrary or capricious actions.

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