New Rehab Reform Laws Aim To Clean Up California's Troubled System

By Keri Blakinger 10/01/18

One of the new laws puts a ban on patient brokering. 

California governor Jerry Brown
California Governor Jerry Brown signed the new laws into place last week.

California Gov. Jerry Brown last week green-lit a series of measures aimed at reforming the state’s troubled and under-regulated rehab system.

One of the new measures, which come on the heels of media scrutiny of the state’s recovery industry, would require rehabs to refer to evidence-based models or the American Society of Addiction Medicine treatment criteria for a minimum standard of care. 

“It’s an unbelievably unregulated field, and we’re going to try to put our arms around that by requiring some standards and the best scientific evidence before these facilities are licensed,” state Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) told the Orange County Register. “We may be able to solve a small part of the problem, and save some lives.”

The legislation gives the California State Department of Health Care Services five years to figure out the details.

“This bill would require the department to adopt specified standards for these facilities as minimum requirements for licensure,” the law reads. “The bill would authorize the department to implement, interpret, or make specific this requirement by means of plan or provider bulletins or similar instructions until regulations are adopted and would require the department to adopt the regulations by January 1, 2023.”

The governor also green-lit other rehab-related legislation, including one bill that puts a ban on patient brokering and another that makes rehab licenses provisional for a year  and revocable.

Although the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, some cities and the Orange County Board of Supervisors voiced support for the new measures, an emergency room physicians’ associations worried whether giving in to NIMBY demands for regulation would work to increase stigma around addiction, according to Cal Matters.

And, despite what advocates view as legislative successes, some proposals didn’t pass or didn’t make it into the final legislation, including language that would have raised sober living home standards and created criminal consequences for patient brokering.

“Now we have legislative intent and precedent to address this issue in a larger context,” activist Ryan Hampton told the Orange County paper. “We’re going to continue to build on this success in the next session and in the future. We will get to the point where we have full protections in place. At least we’re not going backwards.”

Though the various pieces of legislation had different legislative sponsors, at least one credited the newspaper group—and comedian John Oliver—with lighting the spark that ignited change.

“Thanks to you and the paper and John Oliver for opening my eyes to the issue and the abuses,” state Sen. Hill told the publication. “Southern California has such a prevalence of these facilities. It’s not benefiting anyone, and harming so many people.”

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.