EDITORIAL: Demand strict oversight for recovery homes
In just the past year alone, the opioid epidemic has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Americans. The death toll now rivals the total number of US casualties from the Vietnam War.
Local veterans struggling with addiction soon will have the opportunity to share a recovery home with others who have served their country.
Like York County’s specialized Veterans Treatment Court and a new veterans-only housing unit at the county prison, the premise behind the new recovery option is that veterans police each other — and they engage in self-correcting behavior when they're around each other.
Common Pleas Judge Craig T. Trebilcock, an Army colonel who oversees the court, said former military personnel have greater success in a recovery environment like the one they had while serving.
The treatment court, started about six years ago, offers veterans intensive counseling instead of prison time. Program participants must undergo intensive therapy and treatment, and attend meetings several times per month.
Hopefully, the veterans-only recovery home is as successful as the court option, which has become a model for other Pennsylvania counties.
Sarah Primak, a veterans justice outreach specialist for the Lebanon VA Medical Center, said she's seen great success with York County's approach and is excited about the recovery house, which the local Department of Veteran Affairs hopes to open by Nov. 11, which is Veterans Day.
In both the treatment court and the veterans-only prison housing unit, Primak said, she's seeing veterans connect with each other and continue supporting each other after leaving the justice system.
A similar approach to recovery would be a welcome tool as the state and nation struggle with a persistent opioid epidemic.
In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf has declared the opioid crisis a disaster.
Earlier this year, he signed a statewide disaster declaration to improve the state response and increase access to treatment in hopes of mitigating opioid-related deaths.
As part of that declaration, the state waived annual licensing requirements for high-performing drug and alcohol treatment facilities.
Unfortunately, quality treatment facilities are the exception rather than the rule, according to Trebilcock.
The judge said there are about 100 recovery homes in the York area but fewer than a dozen that he feels confident can provide a safe, nurturing environment for those battling addiction.
"We're trying to get people off drugs, but in order to put them in close proximity to support services, we're putting them in houses in neighborhoods rife with drug dealers," he said. "It's totally counterproductive."
Trebilcock said he believes there is an immediate need for greater oversight of recovery homes as a whole.
In December, Wolf signed a bill allowing the state to regulate recovery homes, but only those that receive public money.
In the midst of a full-blown crisis, that’s simply too little, too late.
While we urge our readers to support the effort aimed at those who served, we also suggest they contact their lawmakers to demand strict regulations for all recovery homes.