It’s Time For The State To Get Serious On Sober Home Oversight

One of the long-standing quandaries that stems from John Locke’s “Social Contract Theory” is just how much power should individuals give up for the safety of the masses? Or, how much power should a government have over its citizens?

These questions have long been a basis for political philosophical differences, with some postulating that the government should reduce its oversight of both individuals and companies, and others arguing the government needs to have more of a direct say in matters, especially those pertaining to the health, safety and welfare of society.

This debate is pertinent as we head into 2017 when discussing the question of “sober homes,” which are a sort of halfway house for people fresh out of rehab.

According to the Florida Association of Recovery Residences, sober homes are intended to be supportive, transitional environments for individuals preparing to face the world during recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. These residences rely upon peer group recovery to help individuals gain strength and coping skills in a safe environment.

This is how the system would work in a perfect world. However, in reality, years of loose regulations have created a sober homes industry replete with shady characters who use the rights granted recovering addicts under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act to profit at their expense.

Last year, the Florida Legislature passed a law requiring recovery residences and their administrators to be certified. At the time, sober homes were unregulated, so the state was not even sure how many there were. The new rules were expected to provide the state with a list of where these homes are located, as well as restrict the number of people living in a given home.

That legislation brought the problem into the light and gave authorities a way to differentiate law-abiding operators from shady characters engaged in crimes such as insurance fraud, Medicaid fraud and abuse of patients. Since the new regulations passed in 2015, there have been a slew of arrests this year of individuals who have abused the system and the patients they are entrusted to help with transition.

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg spearheaded a task force to investigate the problems, and the report — which includes 15 recommendations — will be sent to Tallahassee on Jan. 1. Among the recommendations: banning deceptive advertising from the treatment industry, requiring background checks to own a sober home facility and cracking down on patient brokering.

“This is an epidemic,” Aronberg said of the sober homes issue and the opioid crisis during a press conference earlier this week. “This is the number-one public health and public safety crisis facing Palm Beach County and all of Florida.”

The flood of out-of-state patients with insurance covering more lucrative out-of-network programs has created a billion-dollar industry in Florida with very little oversight, Aronberg noted. He urged the legislature to continue what it started in 2015 and give law enforcement more tools to clean up the industry while also protecting the rights of recovering addicts.

We encourage the Florida Legislature to seriously review the task force’s recommendations and make them part of the legal oversight of Florida’s sober home industry. Our society is only as strong as the link most in need, and sober homes need sober backing to benefit the greater good.