Connecticut Voters Push for More Regulation Over Sober Living
Finding a safe and drug-free place to live for opioid addicts who want to stay clean after residential treatment can be difficult.
An increasing number of addicts are turning to "sober houses," a type of group facility that bills itself as a helpful setting for addicts transitioning to a better way of life.
However, the deaths of a Ridgefield man and a Danbury woman living in sober homes in Torrington in recent weeks have cast a pall over the industry, which is rapidly expanding but remains unmanaged and uncontrolled by state or local governments.
Officials estimate that there are roughly 240 such residences in Connecticut, but there is no way to know for sure because they do not need to be regulated or even make themselves known to authorities.
Some places offer support services like group 12-step meetings, rigorous curfews, and activity monitoring, while others, according to officials, are little more than boarding houses.
"My frustration is that individuals with money are buying up properties and calling themselves sober homes with very little regulation," said state Rep. Michelle Cook, a Democrat from Torrington.
Cook has suggested legislation requiring sober houses to register as businesses, which would be the first step in regulating the industry.
She plans to reintroduce the bill soon after it died in the previous legislative session.
Brett Handrahan agrees that additional regulation is needed after his daughter, Kaitlyn Knapp, 21, died of a heroin overdose on Dec. 29 while staying at one of the Torrington sober homes.
"Sober houses are the last step in recovery and somebody should be regulating this," she said. "Boarding houses are regulated but sober houses aren’t. It just doesn’t make any sense. "
David Anderson, 29, of Ridgefield, died at a sober house run by Key Recovery Community, which has many similar places in Torrington, a week after Knapp.
For this report, key officials declined to speak.
According to a 2015 analysis by the state's Office of Legislative Research, because sober houses provide "support" rather than "therapy," they are not subject to the same standards as residential treatment programs.
Local officials also have challenges in regulating sober houses since addiction is classified as a condition under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and laws could be seen as limiting access to necessary care."We need to figure out a way to regulate these homes so that owners who are just trying to make a quick buck can be held accountable," she said.
Cook believes that an effort must be made nonetheless so that those in sober homes can be assured of receiving the resources and assistance they require.
Sober houses can be an important part of the rehabilitation process, according to Allison Fulton, executive director of the Housatonic Valley Coalition Against Substance Abuse in Bethel, but there is no guarantee of success.
"Statistically speaking, if you are suffering from an opioid disorder, it can take on average nine times in rehab to get clean," Fulton said. "It’s a really difficult substance to break free from. There may be a false sense of hope associated with sober homes because there is still a very high risk of using again. "
Detox and treatment are typically followed by some type of transitional housing, which may include sober houses.
Most insurance companies cover detox and 30 days of rehab, according to Fulton, but sober houses aren't usually reimbursed and can be expensive for addicts and their families.
Handrahan said her daughter spent time in a Key Recovery sober home, which she felt did a fantastic job of monitoring her case and communicating with family members.
However, her daughter eventually moved to a less regulated setting in another household, and she overdosed a few days later.
Kaitlyn's death was revealed to Handrahan when her friends posted memorials on Facebook.
Weeks after Kaitlyn's death, the sober home where she was staying has yet to contact her."We can’t continue to allow this to happen," Cook said. "We have to figure out how to get a handle on this because things right now just aren’t working," she said. "We need to take more aggressive steps."
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