Lawmakers in Pennsylvania have moved closer to regulating the wave of sober living, or recovery, homes that have cropped up in the wake of the opioid epidemic.
Hundreds of the residences, where people in recovery for addiction live and support one another, operate across the commonwealth without oversight or as members of voluntary associations.
Many operate ethically, but others have been accused of exploiting — and profiting from — vulnerable people.
“There’s no rules, [or] there’s rules, but they don’t all abide by them, but there’s no repercussions. It just doesn’t work,” said state Rep. Tina Davis, whose district in Lower Bucks county is home to more than 100 of the houses.
The state House and Senate this month passed legislation calling for voluntary standards and state-issued certifications for recovery houses.
Senate Bill 446, led by state Sen. Tom McGarrigle, R-Delaware, would bar any recovery home from receiving county, state or federal funds without a voluntary certification, issued by the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. Certifications last for two years.
The bill also calls for charging a fee to the houses — and fining those who fall out of compliance — to support the cost of the licensure program.
House Bill 119 lays out a specific vision for the standards houses would need to meet to earn a state certification, from barring persons with certain prior convictions from operating the residences to mandating safety features, such as emergency exits. The House bill borrows heavily from a state task force report released last year that recommends what regulations should look like.
The Senate Bill appears closer to becoming law, and is scheduled to come up for a vote in the Human Services committee in the House on June 27th. A spokesman for McGarrigle said his bill could be on Governor Tom Wolf’s desk before the end of the week.
Davis said she feared logistical concerns may hamper implementation of the Senate bill, which calls for the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs to assume responsibility for coming up with standards and administering them.
Meanwhile, Wolf has introduced plans to merge four separate state agencies, including the DDAP, in an effort to control costs.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the impending commitee vote on Senate Bill 446.