Senators Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) and John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) have sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr and U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson asking for their assistance to improve oversight of the addiction treatment industry.
Their letter asks the federal government to clarify existing federal laws that would allow the state and local governments to address issues related to addiction treatment facilities while reducing the possibility of lengthy and expensive litigation. Federal law classifies people who are recovering from alcoholism and drug addiction as “disabled,” which complicates state and local efforts to regulate residential treatment facilities and sober living homes.
This has allowed some individuals to exploit or mistreat patients, who can be bought, sold, and exploited for their insurance payments as documented by the Southern California News Group in its 2017 investigation of the “Rehab Riviera.”
The text of the letter can be found below. Click here to view the signed letter.
November 21, 2019
The Honorable William Barr
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20530-001
The Honorable Benjamin Carson, M.D.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 7th Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20410
RE: Issuance of a New Joint Statement on the ADA and the FHA
Dear Attorney General Barr and Secretary Carson:
Opioid addiction has soared and unscrupulous rehab operators have rushed in to take advantage of mandatory mental health treatment coverage required by the Affordable Care Act. In a comprehensive investigation by the Southern California News Group (SCNG), it found that California’s hands-off approach to regulating the industry makes it easy for these bad operators to take advantage of these vulnerable individuals. According to the SCNG, they “found that destitute and homeless addicts can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to unscrupulous rehab centers, where those addicts often are bought, sold and exploited for their insurance payments.”
The quality of care in these facilities is not consistent and does not always adhere to a specific set of standards. As a result, patients and their families can be misled, misdirected and misdiagnosed by unqualified individuals. The California State Legislature has recognized that consumers with substance use disorders have disabling conditions and need to be protected. However, the policies that have come down from the federal level do not allow the Legislature to act.
Over the last five years, we have worked with our colleagues in the California State Legislature to increase awareness about the lack of appropriate oversight of sober living homes and to make progress toward legislative solutions where progress has previously proven elusive. There have been attempts in the Legislature to address unregulated sober living homes as well as state-licensed alcoholism or drug abuse or treatment facilities over the course of two decades, but the problems remain unresolved.
Over the past few years, the legislation that we authored as well as many bills that we supported and co-authored did not advance through the legislative process, but several other bills were approved that begin to regulate this arena.
However, the true root of this issue should be addressed and clarified at the federal level. As such, we are asking the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to issue a new Joint Statement on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA) to allow local governments to uphold national standards and best practices in sober living environments for the protection of residents in recovery. The previous statement and clarification in November 2016 only involved zoning regulations and added to the confusion in our districts on this issue.
The main challenge in enacting change at the state level is that federal law classifies people who are recovering from alcoholism or drug addiction as “disabled,” and the federal Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act require “reasonable accommodation” for housing. As a result, both the state and local governments have encountered resistance with creating laws and ordinances that provide standards and requirements for sober living homes without violating federal law. Cities that have adopted ordinances imposing restrictions and requirements on sober living homes have faced lengthy and expensive litigation, and the legal landscape remains murky.
We will continue to do what we can to responsibly address the sober living home issue and protect public safety in our communities. We welcome the opportunity to work with you and members of Congress on these efforts. Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of further assistance.
PATRICIA C. BATES JOHN M.W. MOORLACH
Senator, 36th District Senator, 37th District
cc: Members, Orange County Congressional Delegation