Surge In Sober Living Homes Leaves Small Arizona Town Struggling To Adapt

By McCarton Ackerman 08/24/16

Longtime residents are expressing concerns about their safety as the number of sober living homes continues to grow in Prescott, Arizona. 

Surge In Sober Living Homes Leaves Small Arizona Town Struggling To Adapt
Downtown Prescott, Arizona

The scenic mountain community of Prescott, Arizona, has experienced a boom in sober living homes, but local residents are struggling to adapt to a surge of recovering addicts entering the area, and the lack of government oversight of many of these homes.

Prescott has been viewed as a sober haven in recent years. In 2012, The Fix even listed it as one of the top 10 U.S. destinations to get sober. But with more than 150 sober homes among a population of 40,000—and more of them currently in the works—some longtime residents feel their safety is being jeopardized.

"When you've got a hundred boys and men trying to kick a heroin problem, how do you feel safe living next door to them when they're falling off the wagon all the time?" said Connie Cantelme to NPR. Cantelme then recalled an incident where she went outside one morning and found that a man had overdosed under her deck.

Allison Zelms, Prescott’s deputy city manager, expressed concern that Arizona law allows these homes to operate unregulated, apart from adhering to minor code enforcement and city zoning laws. Recovering addicts often enter these homes without a discharge plan, enabling them to bounce around from one sober home to the next. If insurance runs out on a client, they are often kicked out.

Sources inside the insurance industry told NPR that out-of-network providers bill $500 to $800 per day for outpatient treatment on average. Gerald Shulman, a clinical psychologist in Jacksonville, Florida, acknowledged that “the drive to make money sometimes gets to be a greater motivator than the drive for patient safety and clinical care.”

The Arizona Legislature got involved this spring by passing a law that allows a city, town or county to regulate the safety and health standards for sober living homes. But for some, the option for an area to implement these policies simply isn’t enough.

"We are not trying to shut sober homes. We're not trying to stop addicts from getting help," said Glenn Martin, a Prescott resident whose son died while living at a sober home in southern California. "But what we don't want to happen is what happened to us."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.