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The Access to Sober Living Act will stop unethical practices at sober living homes

The nationwide opioid epidemic is destroying lives, tearing families apart and endangering our communities. Southern California is not immune to this crisis. In fact, it is home to one of the highest concentrations of substance-abuse rehabilitation facilities. The Southern California News Group’s May 2017 “Rehab Riviera” series exposed how some of these facilities exploit patients through patient brokering. This practice involves the “sale” of a patient to a rehabilitation or recovery facility in exchange for a lucrative fee. Once these patients are “sold” to the highest bidder, some facilities do little to treat the underlying causes of addiction, putting their patients at risk of relapse while collecting substantial health insurance payments.

As the opioid epidemic grows, so does the need for legitimate treatment facilities. Over 1,100 licensed facilities and countless unlicensed facilities, many of which have opened in recent years, are located throughout Southern California. Neither California state law nor regulation governs residential recovery facilities, also known as sober living homes, which means that an owner or operator need not even hold any type of degree or qualifications in order to obtain a license. Sadly, bad actors who choose to profit off addiction rather than help patients are often times the ones operating these facilities. Coupled with lax government oversight, it is unsurprising that many seeking treatment fail to receive the care they deserve.

We cannot allow shady treatment facilities to continue to operate, posing a threat to both patients and communities. My colleague, Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, and I recently introduced the Access to Sober Living Act, which would require the federal government to establish best practices for sober living homes to ensure patients receive high quality care. Reputable sober living facilities provide a safe environment for patients to continue their efforts to maintain sobriety. The Access to Sober Living Act would help put an end to fraudulent behavior and unethical practices by sober living homes to help those struggling with addiction reclaim and rebuild their lives.

Our bill is one part of Congress’ effort to combat the opioid epidemic. As a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, I am working with my colleagues to pass and enact legislation that provides resources for treatment and prevention, while addressing the underlying causes of addiction. The committee has held numerous hearings on the topic of opioids, including one in May where I questioned pharmaceutical distributors about their suspicious shipments of powerful opioids to California pharmacies.

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Access to Sober Living Act and 38 additional bills that would help prevent abuse, enhance treatment efforts and improve accountability standards for those who prescribe opioids. Importantly, these bills passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, demonstrating Congress’ recognition that we must work together to address this growing issue.

Our nation is at a crossroads.  It is time for us to provide and utilize every available resource to end the opioid epidemic. Together, we can rebuild lives, families and our communities.

Mimi Walters represents the 45th Congressional District.


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