Commentary

Pa. residents recovering from substance use disorder deserve safe, supportive housing | Opinion

Everyone’s recovery journey is different; but for many, one of the critical stops following treatment is moving into a recovery house

Members of the Parent Panel Advisory Council meet with Pa. Department of Drug & Alcohol Programs officials on Wednesday, 5/4/22 in Harrisburg (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller).

By Jennifer Smith

As a state and a nation, the addiction crisis has a devastating grip on us all. For proof, look no further than the Center for Disease Control’s recent announcement that overdose deaths hit a new record high across the country in 2021. In Pennsylvania, that hold is tight, as we’re currently seeing 2021 overdose deaths outpaced only by what we saw at the height of the opioid epidemic in 2017.

We are at an inflection point within this crisis— one between grief and hope. At the same time that we’re seeing increases in overdose deaths, the Wolf Administration is recommitting every day to loosening the grip this public health crisis has on us by ensuring everyone has access to treatment and continues onto a life in recovery.

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Everyone’s recovery journey is different; but for many, one of the critical stops following treatment is moving into a recovery house. Recovery houses provide direct connections to others in recovery, mutual support groups, and recovery support services to prepare individuals for their transition into a life of recovery.

Being in recovery is a time to celebrate and be proud, but it’s also a very vulnerable time in someone’s life. Sadly, we’ve seen too many bad actors take advantage of that vulnerability because of a lack of recovery house standards or protections, resulting in an unknown number of substandard facilities exploiting this vulnerable population.

That’s why Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation giving the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) the power and duty to license recovery houses – much like the commonwealth does for drug and alcohol treatment facilities. Last December, DDAP published regulations for the licensure of recovery houses and announced that the licensure program was officially open and accepting applications.

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The purpose of the licensure program is to help support sustained recovery for individuals with substance use disorder by ensuring a network of safe drug and alcohol recovery houses across the commonwealth.

The recovery house licensing regulations contain a number of provisions designed to protect residents in the areas of health and safety, finances, and resident rights, some of which include staff training on administering naloxone, CPR, first aid, and the requirement of storing naloxone on the premises; and nondiscriminatory practices based on age, sex, race, ethnicity, religion, economic status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression.

Recovery houses must obtain a license from DDAP if they are receiving federal or state funding, referrals from publicly funded facilities, and/or referrals for individuals whose substance use disorder (SUD) treatment is funded with federal or state funding.

Starting June 9,  DDAP will have the authority to impose fines, which may be up to $1,000 per day, on operators of any unlicensed recovery houses that receive public funding.

As that deadline is fast approaching, DDAP is here to help.

  1. Our Bureau of Program Licensure offers a free training workshop designed to answer the various questions associated with the application process. Participation in the workshop results in a decrease in the amount of time it takes to approve applications.
  2. Names, locations, and additional details about each DDAP-licensed recovery house in Pennsylvania are regularly updated on DDAP’s Facility Locator. A searchable map will also be made available on the DDAP website in the coming weeks.
  3. Recovery houses can find more information regarding the application process on the DDAP website.

At DDAP, our ultimate vision is for all Pennsylvanians to live free, or in recovery, from addiction. Licensing recovery homes are a significant step in ensuring safe, supportive housing for Pennsylvanians in recovery from SUD.

We hope the program will provide some assurance and peace of mind to family members as to where their loved one is living, and ultimately help to reverse the overdose trends we’re experiencing here in Pennsylvania.

Jennifer Smith is the secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. She writes from Harrisburg.

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