An Arizona Town Moves To Regulate Sober Living Homes : Shots - Health News Prescott, Ariz., has become a destination of choice for people trying to get sober, with growing numbers of group homes for recovering addicts. Some residents are calling for regulation of the homes.

A Small Town Struggles With A Boom In Sober Living Homes

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A Small Town Struggles With A Boom In Sober Living Homes

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">


Today in Your Health - addiction recovery. This is a multibillion dollar industry. And one of the fastest-growing treatment models is the so-called sober-living home, a place where addicts pay to live while they get sober. The town of Prescott in Arizona has seen a dramatic increase in the number of these homes. But some say they need to be better-regulated, and a new law allowing that took effect this month. Will Stone from member station KJZZ reports.

WILL STONE, BYLINE: Like so many parents, Jill and Glenn Martin never imagined their son might one day become a drug addict.

GLENN MARTIN: Played baseball a lot, and he was into schools and girls and just everything else a regular teenager would be.

STONE: A family photo in the couple's living room shows a smiling young man in cap and gown.

JILL MARTIN: Well, that was Joey's graduation and...

G. MARTIN: High school.

J. MARTIN: High school graduation, yeah. This was maybe a year after the accident.

STONE: That accident was a head-on collision with a drunk driver. Soon, Joey was using prescription pills and eventually abusing them.

G. MARTIN: When your kid's addicted, you do whatever you can to help them, and that's what we did.

STONE: For three years, his parents sent Joey to various programs. Eventually, he ended up at a sober-living home. His parents were hopeful. He was talking about going to college. But then they got a call.

J. MARTIN: You don't just let - send the person to bed to die.

STONE: Joey was found in his room. He'd overdosed. They later discovered he'd shown up to a house meeting that night sickly, white as a ghost. Apparently, he had not been drug tested for more than a month.

G. MARTIN: These people that live in these sober homes, they deserve the safety element as much as anybody else. They don't know. The parents don't know. We didn't know.

STONE: Since then, Glenn and Jill Martin have advocated for more regulation of these homes - first, in Southern California, where Joey died and, once they moved, in Prescott, Ariz. It's a picturesque community of 40,000, with more than 150 sober-living homes at last count.

BONNIE DENDOOVEN: That little mountain town I owe my life to.

STONE: That's what Bonnie DenDooven hears all the time. She's with the Bridges Network, a program based on the 12-step philosophy, which also includes some medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction. When her clients are not receiving treatment, most stay in affiliated sober-living homes, which, until this month, could not be closely regulated. DenDooven says this model gradually integrates clients back into society.

DENDOOVEN: Much as you replicate real world, I think you stand a better chance of them making it.

VINCENT RIENZIE: My name is Vincent Rienzie Jr.

STONE: I caught Rienzie earlier this year, just before his plane took off, bound for his home on Long Island. Like many young addicts, he'd come to Prescott to get sober - in this case, at another program called Promise Recovery. But...

RIENZIE: Our insurance wasn't paying them, and they were looking to make an excuse to throw us out.

STONE: That excuse - he and his friend were socializing with women, which is against the rules. After 60 days sober, he ended up on the streets, nowhere to go. Promise Recovery did not respond to requests for comment, but Barry Hancock was a therapist working in that program. He says he was told by those running it that many clients didn't have insurance, so they might need to find ways of kicking some of them out.

BARRY HANCOCK: We don't necessarily have to worry about clients. We don't have to worry about them dropping out and can I pick one up. There's plenty of them waiting in line.

STONE: Promise Recovery later fired Hancock after he tried to help Vincent Rienzie.

HANCOCK: We have just people coming in and opening rehabs, and we have chaos.

STONE: Interviews with more than a dozen people who've gone through programs in Prescott plus complaints made with the state of Arizona show this to be a familiar story - recovering addicts kicked out of homes with no exit plans or accountability.

DENDOOVEN: We have never, in our entire time of operation, discontinued service just because somebody's insurance ran out.

STONE: That's Bonnie DenDooven again with the Bridges Network.

DENDOOVEN: This model has a significant treatment-outcome-positive history.

STONE: Insurance covers the treatment at programs like DenDooven's, but not the cost of living in the related group homes.

ANTHONY DEKKER: Almost any parent would say yes to that - and even a second time, and even a third time.

STONE: Dr. Anthony Dekker has worked in the field since the 1980s. He says, on average, an addict ends up in seven different programs. What's more, the failure rate in private rehab - ones without comprehensive medication-assisted treatment - generally exceeds 80 percent.

DEKKER: This is a vulnerable population that's easy to take advantage of. There's got to be some way to monitor not only the intervention and the treatments, but also the results.

STONE: Just this spring, Arizona passed a law allowing more government oversight of these homes. Only a handful of states have done that. Others have or are working on voluntary certifications - what Jill and Glenn Martin have been fighting for since their son Joey died in one.

G. MARTIN: We're not trying to shut down sober homes. We're not trying to stop addicts from getting help. But what we don't want to happen, also, is what happened to us.

STONE: They hope these new regulations will help other families like them. For NPR News, I'm Will Stone in Prescott, Ariz.

GREENE: And later today on All Things Considered, we'll hear how the proliferation of sober-living homes is changing the city of Prescott, Ariz.

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