Magazine article Addiction Professional

Confidence in Sober Homes: A Massachusetts Law Will Block Referrals to Some Sober-Living Sites

Magazine article Addiction Professional

Confidence in Sober Homes: A Massachusetts Law Will Block Referrals to Some Sober-Living Sites

Article excerpt

Sober homes are in the process of getting certified in Massachusetts, and under a new law, the state Department of Public Health has contracted with organizations to train entities to conduct inspections and process certifications. Certification is voluntary, but under the law, treatment providers receiving state funding are not allowed to refer patients to any sober home that is not certified. Massachusetts is among a small group of states that have moved aggressively to seek to distinguish sound operators of soberliving sites from unethical entities.

The two Massachusetts organizations that will be doing the training for certification are the Massachusetts Association for Sober Housing (MASH) and the Massachusetts Recovery Homes Collaborative (part of the Gavin Foundation).

One important distinction to point out for people not from the Commonwealth: The terms "recovery residence" and "sober home" mean two completely different things in Massachusetts. Recovery residences are a licensed level of care in the state, with mandated minimum staffing and typically are part of a treatment continuum that goes from detoxification (if needed) to step-down care with transitional support services, and then finally to a recovery residence.

Sober homes, on the other hand, are not licensed or funded by the state. Historically, they have been "whatever anybody wanted them to be," says Vicker V. DiGravio III, president and CEO of the Association for Behavioral Healthcare (ABH), a statewide behavioral health providers association. DiGravio says ABH, which has members that operate sober homes, strongly supports the new law.

"For years, there have been some bad actors who have tainted not just the sober home industry but the treatment industry," he says. "There are some who are basically just landlords renting out apartments."

They might be hosting a 12-Step group, but that does not make them a sober home.

The need for sober homes is driven by people coming out of the treatment system who have struggled with finding safe, affordable housing, says DiGravio. ABH members have been working to make sure these individuals have access to stable housing, he says.

Housing, not treatment

By definition, sober homes in Massachusetts do not provide treatment, which is why they are not licensed by the state. But certification is meant to guarantee a measure of protection for clients.

Hilary Jacobs was director of the Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Abuse Services for much of the time when this law was prepared. Now vice president of Addiction Treatment Services at Lahey Health Behavioral Services in Danvers, Mass., Jacobs explains that the state legislature had requested a report on whether sober homes could be regulated. The report, released two years ago, stated that sober homes can't be regulated for a variety of reasons--mainly because even though it is "alcohol and drug free" housing, it is still housing.

This led to the current certification system, which Jacobs supports, "because it provides some minimum standards that protect the consumer, who relies on this kind of housing in the community." Lahey Health, as a vendor, can refer only to sober homes that are certified, notes Jacobs. A similar law is now in the process of being implemented in Florida.

Sometimes, consumers in Massachusetts don't understand the difference between a recovery residence--the state-licensed entity--and a sober home, Jacobs says. …

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