Pennsylvania does not regulate addiction recovery houses. As the opioid crisis takes center stage, state lawmakers are pushing for reforms that could bring higher standards and more funding to facilities that bill themselves as crucial steps in the recovery process.
Paul did not want to share his last name but did want to share his story.
“I come from a very blue-collar, working-class family,” Paul said as he took ABC27 on a tour through the recovery house he currently calls home.
Addiction didn’t care where Paul came from when his prescription drug use spiraled out of control.
“I got to the point where I really didn’t want to live anymore,” Paul said. “The summer before I came into recovery, I was in four rehabs … I had a misconception going in there like I’d be in there 30 days, I’d be weaned off these pills, and I’d be better. Well, that was not the case.”
Each time Paul finished treatment, he would be alone, filled with anxiety, and eventually falling back into drug use. But he says one move helped him break that cycle.
“I moved into a recovery house,” Paul said. “And at this point, I’m really glad I did.”
A recovery house is where people live after addiction treatment with other people trying to get better. Counselors describe it as a type of transition from rehab. Paul says he had a great experience, but also says it could have easily gone the other way.
In Pennsylvania, anyone can call any house a recovery house, with no experience or inspections required.
“I couldn’t believe it,” state Senator Tom McGarrigle said, describing the moment he learned Pennsylvania recovery houses are unregulated. “We’re just sending people from a treatment facility to basically these flophouses.”
McGarrigle says there are great recovery facilities in Pennsylvania, but there are also horror stories of drug dealers using recovery houses as a way to get clients and keep the cycle of addiction going.
“We need to have regulations to know who’s running these facilities so that the individuals that truly need the help to continue their recovery process are taken care of properly,” McGarrigle said.
“I don’t know one individual personally that doesn’t have someone they know in their life that they touch that this hasn’t crossed their path,” he added.
Senate Bill 446 is bipartisan legislation that would require recovery houses to register with Pennsylvania’s Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. Other requirements include criminal background checks, counseling experience, annual inspections, and financial protections for tenants.
McGarrigle says fines and fees would help pay for the implementation of regulations, which could open the door to state funding and insurance coverage for recovery homes.
“It’s the only way we’re going to raise that credibility and alleviate or prevent a lot of the horror stories that take place,” recovery house owner John Maxton said.
Maxton has more than 40 years of experience with addiction treatment and recovery. He is the founder and owner of Invision Recovery Houses, is a strong believer that clear standards will help more successfully recover.
“Nobody says ‘Hey, I want the state coming in and inspecting me,'” Maxton said. “But they’re not the enemy. It’s better for the field.”
Maxton says his recovery houses balance strict rules with freedom.
“They have to sign in, sign out,” Maxton said. “They have to go to so many meetings a week.”
The goal is to allow people living there to transition after rehab while still avoiding loneliness and the old habits and thoughts that can set in and lead to relapse.
Maxton says he hopes state regulations require other recovery houses to follow suit for the sake of people like Paul.
Now clean and sober, Paul says his experience in a safe, structured recovery is the reason he’s still alive and able to help others in their battle against addiction.
“I mean, that’s a better feeling than you get from any drink or a drug, I can tell you that,” Paul said.