April 17, 2018

Senators Unveil First Comprehensive Review of Federal and State Oversight of "Sober Living Homes"

Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Strengthen Standards for Recovery Housing

Link to GAO report | Bill Text

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and five of their Senate colleagues today released a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report reviewing federal and state oversight of recovery housing, or "sober living homes." Sober living homes can be effective for those in recovery from addiction, but investigations have also found examples of facilities taking advantage of individuals or pushing them back into addiction.

Senators Warren, Hatch, and Rubio requested a GAO review of sober living homes in 2016. The new report identifies several examples of unscrupulous relationships between addiction treatment providers and recovery housing operators, including kickbacks for recovery housing operators for referring patients to certain treatment providers and excessive billing for treatment. In some cases, this involved "deceptive marketing practices" and treatment providers "encouraging patients to use drugs." The GAO report also reveals significant regulatory gaps that allowed these recovery housing facilities to evade accountability and take advantage of their residents.

"The opioid epidemic is hitting Massachusetts hard," said Senator Warren. "This critical report highlights shocking instances of sober living homes taking advantage of those with addiction. We need stronger oversight and guidelines to make sure that sober living homes are getting people the care they need - and I'm glad to work with my colleagues on a bipartisan bill that would do just that."

"The instances of fraud highlighted by this report are appalling. It is disheartening that some recovery houses would exploit those seeking treatment for substance abuse disorders while on their long road towards addition recovery. While several states, including Utah, have increased their oversight of recovery homes, federal oversight is badly needed. This bipartisan bill will strengthen federal oversight by requiring recovery homes that receive federal grants to meet best practices established by SAMHSA," said Senator Hatch.

"In every corner of Virginia, the opioid epidemic is hurting families, challenging local law enforcement, and leaving businesses without a capable workforce," said Senator Kaine. "Recovery homes can play a crucial role in combatting this epidemic, but as shown by the GAO report, some facilities are taking advantage of individuals battling addiction instead of helping them transition back into their communities. That's why we're working to establish clear standards and best practices that will help ensure recovery homes are providing the highest level of care and that they're held accountable for their services."

While the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides federal grant dollars to fund recovery housing efforts in some states, there is no federal oversight of these facilities, and state oversight is limited and varied. Following the release of the GAO report, the senators introduced the Ensuring Access to Quality Recovery Living Act. The legislation would:

  • Authorize SAMHSA to develop best practices for recovery living facilities and to provide technical assistance and support to states working to adopt best practices.
  • Require states that use SAMHSA grants for recovery residences to meet established best practices
  • Direct SAMHSA to provide best practice information directly to patients

Senators Richard Blumenthal (D- Conn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) also joined in releasing the GAO report.

Read report here. Read bill text here