Ending Rehab Riviera: Orange County First County to Regulate Sober-Living Homes

Santa Ana, California - Orange County is combating the dangerous and unregulated sober living home industry.

On Tuesday, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved a proposal by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas to regulate sober living homes in unincorporated Orange County, becoming the first County in the state to crackdown on the facilities.

“You can’t even open up a lemonade stand without getting an inspection – yet these dangerous halfway houses are allowed to bring dangerous ex-convicts into residential neighborhoods completely unregulated,” said Supervisor Andrew Do, Chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. “Tony Rackauckas’ plan of action will help protect our neighborhoods from these dangerous facilities.” 

The unregulated sober living home industry has wreaked havoc on residential neighborhoods with facilities that have left addicts overdosing in residential neighborhoods.

One Costa Mesa mother described coming home from a school run “to find a young man, high on meth, next to a car. His friend, also high on meth, had bolted — taking the car keys. And a third young man — lying in her driveway — had overdosed and vomited. He was taken away by ambulance,” according to the OC Register.

OC Register Investigation: Rehab Riviera 
Earlier this year, an Orange County Register investigation uncovered the dangerous practices of the unregulated sober living home industry. The yearlong investigation revealed financial abuses and the “revolving door… that generates huge money for operators who know how to game the system.” Among the industry’s problems:

  • "Junkie Hunters" That Recruit Out-of-State Addicts to Enroll in Covered California: “Junkie hunters,” or “body brokers,” often recruit patients from out of state and bring them to California, where addicts can be signed up for private insurance policies on the Covered California exchange.” (OC Register, 5-22-2017)
  • Facilities Run by Ex-Cons, Rapists, Child Molesters & Pedophiles: “Rapists, child molesters and pedophiles served in positions of trust inside state-licensed addiction treatment centers because, in California, no criminal background checks were required.” (OC Register, 12-29-2017 & Report, Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes, 5-13-2013)
  • Straining Local Community Resources: 2500 Calls for Service: “In the eight south Orange County cities patrolled by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, there were 2,500 calls for service during that same period. The heaviest-hit were San Clemente, where there were 926 calls, the majority to just six addresses; and San Juan Capistrano, where there were 667 calls, the majority to just 10 addresses.” (OC Register, 12-29-2017)
  • “Industry’s Connection to Homelessness is Most Evident”: “A center of the region’s rehab boom is Costa Mesa, where the recovery industry’s connection to homelessness is most evident.” (OC Register, 12-17-2017)
  • 1117 Licensed Rehab Centers in Region – Doesn’t Count Unlicensed Sober Living Homes: “In all, the region is home to 1,117 licensed rehab centers, a number that doesn’t include thousands of unlicensed sober living homes where addicts live as families…. Industry insiders call the Los Angeles basin “Rehab Riviera.”  (OC Register, 5-21-2017)

Orange County’s Plan of Action
The Orange County Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance to require alcohol, narcotic and drug abuse programs to register each year with the Orange County Health Care Agency.

“I commend our Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas for bringing this forward as an investigative tool to hold this fraudulent treatment facilities accountable,” said Do.
According to the state Department of Health Care Services, there were 140 licensed outpatient drug and alcohol addiction treatment and recovery centers, and 323 halfway houses in Orange County.
The Board of Supervisors also gave direction to the Orange County Health Care Agency to return to the Board with a countywide enforceable ordinance including cost recovery options. Supervisors Bartlett, Do and Steel voted for the ordinance.