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NJ Sober Living Homes Bill Points Up Challenges of Addiction Care

Mary K. Caffrey
A bill in New Jersey to regulate sober living homes points up a quandary of trying to bring resources to those struggling with addiction: too few rules can put people with mental health issues at risk. But too many could put facilities out of business, leaving even fewer places for addicts, who may have few resources, to seek care.
A bill in New Jersey to regulate sober living homes points up a quandary of trying to bring resources to those struggling with addiction: too few rules can put people with mental health issues at risk. But too many could put facilities out of business, leaving even fewer places for addicts, who may have few resources, to seek care.

NJ Spotlight highlighted yesterday's testimony from Alba Herrera, whose 24-year-old son, Nick Rohdes, overdosed in February after returning home from sober living facility to stay with his mother. Rohdes did tell her that he’d been evicted for relapsing, and within a day he was dead from a heroin overdose.

Herrera wants more oversight of the sober living homes, including requirements that families be given the details in such cases, or that it be easier for resident like her son be involuntarily committed. But members of New Jersey’s mental health community are divided on the bill, with some saying it goes too far and could have the effect giving addicts fewer places to go for help.

Part of the problem is spending on mental health itself, and addiction in particular. Despite the passage of a federal parity law, a January study published in The American Journal of Managed Care found that resources for substance abuse did not increase in its first year. Efforts are under way to change that going forward. Meanwhile, advocates for those in recovery told New Jersey legislators that too much regulation of sober living houses could do more harm than good.

“While well-intended, additional government oversight can have the effect of impeding the recovery mission,” said Jennifer Hansen, president of the Hansen Foundation, a sober living facility operator. Hansen, a recovering addict herself, told NJ Spotlight that the facilities offer a cost-effective way to treat addiction.

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