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State and operators need to compromise on recovery homes

State and operators need to compromise on recovery homes

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The opioid crisis demands a response on many fronts, coordinated across government, nonprofit and private entities. Many new approaches are needed. But even a national emergency doesn’t mean that anything goes.

One way that nonprofits in New Jersey responded to the urgency of soaring addiction rates and overdoses was to quickly create recovery homes where people can get help with their substance abuse problem. But the state, unsurprisingly, hasn’t been as quick in creating the legal basis and regulatory framework for those residences.

Two years ago, the state Division of Codes and Standards found that three sober-living facilities operated by the Atlantic City-based Hansen Foundation failed to submit plans and get state approval under existing boarding house regulations.

The nonprofit organization tried to work with the state, which allows group homes that are run by and directly supported by their residents. But that would rule out Hansen’s successful model of helping clients with transportation, legal issues, obtaining a job, food shopping and outpatient treatment.

Hansen’s efforts to get relief from the state included meetings with then-Gov. Chris Christie, who signed legislation authorizing cooperative sober living residences as a type of rooming house, said founder and President Jennifer Hansen. But the law’s limit of 10 residents per facility still didn’t fit the foundation’s Serenity House and Serenity Estates facilities.

Meanwhile, the $6,000 a week penalty the state assessed the Hansen Foundation as of March 1, 2016, was accumulating. In February this year, the state sought a Superior Court judgment ordering Hansen to pay $594,000 plus interest and the costs of collection. Last month, the foundation went public with the dispute.

Jennifer Hansen has worked to form a New Jersey affiliate of the National Alliance of Recovery Residences. The foundation would like the state to certify recovery houses if they meet NARR standards, and local state legislators have introduced a bill to do so.

State officials will need to take a hard look at those standards. So far, they aren’t in widespread use across the nation. Perhaps some additional requirements beyond those of NARR are needed.

This looks like the state and recovery house operators need to be more considerate of each other’s needs. Surely there is a regulatory framework that protects residents and the public while allowing operators to offer the diverse and effective help needed to overcome substance abuse.

State officials helped create this problem by not responding quickly enough to the rapidly emerging need for sober living homes. Operators may have been a little naïve and assumed that because their work is beneficial, highly regulated New Jersey would eventually approve what they decided to do.

As Bill Schmincke, one of the founders of the Pleasantville nonprofit Stop the Heroin, said recently, “I really do understand that there are unscrupulous people out there creating homes in the name of recovery and just doing it for the money.”

Good. Preventing that and allowing legitimate and helpful services for recovering substance abusers to proceed (without crushing fines) is the answer. State officials and providers must find the mutually agreeable path to that.

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