K. Johnson Legislation Would Formalize Sober Homes

DOVER – As Delaware continues to grapple with the magnitude of the opioid epidemic, legislation filed by Rep. Kendra Johnson looks to enhance the oversight of a critical piece of an individual’s recovery: sober living residences.

Across the United States, more than 70,000 overdose deaths occurred year. Delaware lost 400 lives to an overdose last year, and as the crisis continues, thousands of families are consistently impacted.

Recovery housing is an integral part of an individual’s recovery journey by providing transitional homes in a substance-free, supportive environment. However, sober homes make up a vastly unregulated market where there are gaps in oversight.

Though the state can oversee recovery housing that provides treatment, sober living homes that exist without specified treatment do not fall under the authority of the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. That leaves those less-structured or peer-run sober homes free to market to patients under false pretenses without guidelines to provide beneficial services. The state has oversight over some homes, but the state does not have a record of how many total recovery homes exist in the First State.

“Individuals on the road to recovery are at their most vulnerable, with every interaction playing a critical role on their journey. When you are in recovery, you need more than just a roof over your head. Sober living homes should be providing comprehensive wraparound services so those in recovery do not fall through the cracks,” said Rep. Johnson, D-Bear.

“The fact that individuals could be taken advantage of by these pseudo-recovery homes when they are at their most vulnerable is shameful, and we need to establish system restoring basic dignity to this healing. By instituting a framework for recovery residence licensing, we will ensure the quality of sober living homes, making sure people are safe and supported in reputable living environments.”

House Bill 245 would provide oversight to strengthen those support services, giving the state Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health (DSAMH) the authority to license recovery residences and promulgate rules and regulations that would include setting a fee for a license, crafting a process to review complaints and creating policies regarding resident safety.

“Recovery housing is an essential part of the continuum of care for those with a substance use disorder,” said Elizabeth Romero, Director of the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. “Families often spend their savings to provide their loved ones with a safe environment for their recovery. Unfortunately, without oversight, these homes can be unsafe. This legislation will ensure that licensed recovery homes are held to a common standard and that Delawareans are protected at a crucial point in their recovery journey.”

HB 245 would allow the state to curate a list of recovery residences as well as formalize their legitimacy with specific guidelines and accreditation to reduce the stigma of their place in communities. Without a license, a recovery residence could not receive referrals from the state or treatment organizations who receive government money, obtain state local or federal funding to deliver recovery services or advertise that they are accredited by the state.

“Taking those critical, first steps to recover from substance abuse is often the most difficult moment in a person’s life,” said Sen. Nicole Poore, D-New Castle. “People struggling with substance abuse and their families deserve some reassurance that they are receiving a quality standard of care, and we here in the General Assembly should be doing all we can to make that possible.”

Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey have passed legislation to increase oversight of recovery homes.

Delaware’s law will be known as the “Matthew D. Klosowski Act,” in memory of a Delaware man who overdosed and died while in recovery in Florida.

“When I lost my son Matt to the opioid epidemic, I felt completely distraught and wanted answers desperately. He was staying at a sober home in Florida when he relapsed, and was left to fend for himself out in the community without access to the help he needed. His death showed me how we need to reform the system around recovery homes to ensure that they do not take advantage of vulnerable people,” said MaryBeth Cichocki, mother of Matthew D. Klosowski.

“Delaware's current piecemeal system around recovery housing is not the most effective; we need to have sober living spaces that are structured and regulated. I just want to save other mothers from the pain I endured, and ensure that individuals in recovery are getting the adequate help they deserve.”

HB 245 would go into effect when DSAMH finalizes its rules and regulations, or January 1, 2022, whichever is earlier. The bill has been assigned to the House Health & Human Services Committee.