Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Rehab Counselor's Arrest Comes amid Regulation Efforts Houses Often Set Up without Oversight

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Rehab Counselor's Arrest Comes amid Regulation Efforts Houses Often Set Up without Oversight

Article excerpt

Recovery houses are supposed to help drug addicts get sober and rejoin society.

Many do.

But others are little more than flop houses, say some state lawmakers, and some are shooting galleries.

Case in point, law officers say, is Next Step Foundation, a purported recovery house in the heart of McKees Rocks run by a self-styled counselor, David Francis, whom the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says was really a drug dealer flooding the area with heroin.

He was arrested Oct. 6 and is in jail awaiting trial in federal court.

This is a familiar story to law enforcement and legislators around the state and the country as thousands of recovery houses mushroom in response to the heroin crisis.

One of the problems is that anyone can call himself a drug counselor and set up a house with no oversight.

"They're not regulated at all at this point," said Michael Rader, chief of staff for state Sen. Tom McGarrigle, R-Delaware County. "We've seen kind of a history of bad behavior."

A bill sponsored by Sen. McGarrigle and Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, to regulate the houses, introduced in March, is pending in the state Legislature.

The governor put out a press release this week pushing for its passage among other bills to combat addiction.

The bill and a similar one in the House would have the state follow the guidelines of the Minnesota-based National Alliance for Recovery Residences to license houses. The state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs would oversee the certification.

Without a license, recovery houses would not get referrals from state-funded drug treatment centers or receive any state or federal money. They would be monitored to make sure staffers were trained and conditions were safe.

Some houses already follow the national alliance's standards. The Pennsylvania chapter, based in Philadelphia, has certified about 200 of them and inspects them to make sure they're free of drugs and not overcrowded.

Next Step Foundation was not on that list.

The Pennsylvania chapter says legitimate recovery facilities welcome regulation because the bad ones tarnish them all. The organization calls it the "Florida effect" because that state is overrun with unscrupulous rehab facilities.

No one knows how many recovery houses are in Pennsylvania. …

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