Recovery homes go unregulated leaving addicts vulnerable

FORT MYERS, Fla. – A new bill that just passed the Florida Senate would require specific licensed clinicians to only refer recovering addicts to accredited drug and alcohol recovery homes.

The purpose of recovery houses are to provide peer support and structure to recovering drug and alcohol addicts. However, a WINK News Investigation uncovered a lack of regulation for these homes and how the state is trying to change that through legislation.

An Addict’s Story

For years drug addiction plagued Landon Watson’s life. While talking to Call for Action Reporter Lindsey Sablan, he described living under bridges and hopping from place to place.

“I was homeless on more than one occasion and nowhere to go. I entered the halfway house and it started immediately with accountability and structure,” he recalled.

Over the years Watson lost jobs, lost a sense of self-worth and lost touch with his mother. Now he has made amends and is working to rebuild those family connections.

“It’s hard for me to talk about, I was able to take [my mother] out on mother’s day for the first time and that’s something that’s never happened since I was a kid,” an emotional Watson explained.

He credited recovery homes for helping him get to that point.

Recovery Home Structure

Robert Raab is Landon Watson’s sponsor and the Program Director at Nextep, a Fort Myer’s halfway home. He is also a former addict, and his experiences in halfway homes is why he chose to accredit Nextep with FARR, the Florida Association of Recovery Residences. Nextep currently houses 72 people in eight local halfway homes throughout Southwest Florida.

“For whatever reason this industry, as far as recovery residences has been unlicensed, unregulated industry,” said Raab. “I believe in quality recovery housing because I want to see everybody succeed at this because I know the pain of failure firsthand. I failed at this for a long time.”

Now, there is a group that will hold facility’s like Nextep to a specific standard. That group is FARR.

Recovery Accountability

For the last few years, John Lehman, the president of FARR, has been working with lawmakers to hold recovery homes more accountable. He said because halfway houses are homes and not medical treatment centers, by law they cannot be regulated, which he says leads to problems.

“I hear horror stories every single day about providers…There is definitely a group out there that is interested only in what they can gain for their own benefit, and they take advantage of this population and somebody needs to do something about that,” said Lehman. “…once they get these girls into the cycle, they can trick them out as prostitutes, they can send them off to the doctors that are still writing scripts for pain meds [sic].”

Lehman said the bad apples only make up about 10 percent of the recovery homes.

Lehman explained there are 48 standards a home must meet to earn accreditation through FARR. Those standards are divided by four groups:

–The home stays drug and alcohol free
–It’s safe
–It provides peer support
–It operates as a good neighbor

For example, at Raab’s homes, residents are drug tested weekly, they are required to go to daily meetings, get a sponsor and follow a curfew. At the time this story was published there were two facilities in Southwest Florida with FARR accreditation. Those are Nextep and New Hope Safe House.

Legislation Solution

There is no law in Florida right now that requires recovery homes to be accredited. Becoming part of FARR is voluntary. However, a bill which recently passed the state senate would require Department of Children and Families’ clinicians who treat recovering addicts only refer patients to accredited halfway homes.

If the governor signs this, it would be the first kind of legislation in the country that really holds these facilities to a standard. If signed, the bill would take effect July 1, 2015. At this point, FARR is not listed in the legislation to be the accrediting agency; however, they say they are the only group that currently has a structure in place to do accreditations.

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