Sober Home Standards Could Change Under New California Bill

By Kelly Burch 03/14/19

Recovery advocate Ryan Hampton calls the bill "a good first step."

hands holding a replica of a sober home

Each year, thousands of Americans pay to live in sober homes, but the residences go largely unregulated.

The high potential for profit and low oversight has led to an unscrupulous reputation for sober homes across the nation, including in California and Florida where state investigators have been looking into allegations of abuse and other criminal acts by people operating these facilities. 

Now, a new bill introduced in California aims to set minimum standards for sober homes in hopes of cleaning up the industry—at least a little bit. Democratic Assemblyman Tom Daly introduced the bill, Assembly Bill 1779.

“Despite the growing death toll from opioid and alcohol abuse and addiction, California lacks a uniform set of standards to guide individuals and their loved ones in identifying safe, reliable housing accommodations that will be conducive to recovery,” Daly said in a statement reported by The Daily Bulletin.

“AB 1779 will enable California to provide accurate and up-to-date information… And by adopting best practices, including minimum standards for recovery residences, California will take a significant step towards increasing the number of residences that are safe for people in recovery and for the communities where they are located.”

The bill would require the California Department of Health Care Services to establish best practices, like keeping the opioid overdose reversal drug, Narcan, on site. Sober homes that receive state funding through public health care or court systems would need to meet these requirements. 

Ryan Hampton, who advocates for change in the sober home industry, said that the bill is a good “first step.” However, others in the industry said that the bill would not do enough, especially since most sober homes do not receive state funding. 

“[Daly] really needs to take a strong look at the area where there’s significant abuse, the residential treatment facilities that are being run by private operators and funded through private insurance,” said Orange County’s District Attorney Todd Spitzer, who has been suing sober home operators for operating medical facilities without proper licensing and supervision. 

“One of the biggest complaints we get are about private facilities targeting people across country, bringing them here, then tossing them out when the insurance benefits run out. That’s not happening when government funding is involved. They’re very distinct and different entities, which is why my office is pursuing the private side. We have people who are ripping off the system.”

Laurie Girand pushes for changes to the treatment industry with Advocates for Responsible Treatment. She was not impressed with the bill. 

“Voluntary certification standards… Same old song,” she said. “This is health care, not vitamin supplements. When are we going to start treating it like health care?”

However, Daly’s spokesperson David Miller insisted that the bill was important. 

“If a home is in reality a ‘flop house’ for drug activity, it should be shut down,” he said. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.