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Sober Living Homes Have a Bad Reputation. Some Fear New Federal Guidelines Aren’t Likely to Help.

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Sober homes have had a rough few years lately. They can be helpful for some folks recovering from addiction, providing drug-free environments where the newly sober can get away from old triggers while finding social support. But several recent and devastating investigations have found that unscrupulous sober homes maintain low standards and bill insurance companies astronomical amounts for offering little to residents; the worst operators are facing long prison sentences for assaulting residents and giving them drugs.

Meanwhile, states often don’t regulate sober homes closely, and addiction treatment industry leaders say that’s in part because states historically haven’t seen recovery support as a part of the medical system, which is typically more highly regulated.

“It’s been a neglected resource pretty much forever,” says Dave Sheridan, president of the National Alliance for Recovery Residences, an industry group that publishes its own quality standards for sober homes.

In October of 2018, Congress and the White House tried to step in with a big opioid bill that includes one small section directing federal agencies to establish national best practices for sober-living facilities—as well as strategies for identifying bad actors. Last month, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration posted its proposed guidance, but sober-home operators and researchers say that the new rules lack crucial detail—and an enforcement mechanism.

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