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New London Launches Initiative To Make Sober Houses Safer

Feb 18, 2017

Cities across the state have struggled to crack down on mismanaged "sober houses" -- residences where people with addiction can pay to live in a drug and alcohol free environment.

Some sober houses don't enforce sobriety rules -- which can put its residents at risk of overdose.

On Friday, officials in New London announced an initiative to make sober houses safer for the people who live there.  

Lawrence and Memorial Hospital in New London will give $5,000 to local addiction advocacy group Community Speaks Out to train and certify owners of private sober houses across the city. Officials there tried to launch a voluntary certification program last year, but funding fell through. 

"Those that are in these sober homes are desperate to be in recovery, so we want to support them," said Lisa Johns of Community Speaks Out. "And the owners of these homes and the managers of these homes need to climb on board and accept our support so they can be part of the community we're trying to create."

Johns's son died of a heroin overdose in a sober home in New London about two  years ago. Just a week ago, another person died in the same house, the third to do so.

"That, in my view, is outrageous," said New London Mayor Michael Passero. "They should -- we should be able to shut that operation down immediately. We should have been able to do that after the first death."

Federal law makes it hard for cities to intervene if sober houses aren't enforcing sobriety rules or adhering to fire or building codes.

"We can't even get a fire inspector in there, we can't get a health inspector in there," said Passero. "We cannot get anyone into that facility, unless it's associated with a criminal investigation."

Tammy de la Cruz, Ken Edwards, and Lisa Johns of Community Speaks Out, the organization that will be leading the effort to certify sober houses in New London.
Credit Ryan Caron King / WNPR

Sober houses that go through the voluntary certification process will be put on a referral list for people with addiction looking for safe places to live.

The state legislature is considering several proposed bills this session to regulate sober homes. A bill that would require sober houses to register as businesses and to carry the overdose reversal drug naloxone goes to public hearing next week.

WNPR’s Opioid Addiction Crisis Reporting Initiative is supported by Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network’s MATCH Program.