Philadelphia, February 21, 2020 – Senator Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) today led a group of legislators and addiction recovery professionals to respond to proposed recovery house regulations promulgated by the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) which would eliminate the option of a person to recover from addiction in a drug free environment and to highlight the importance of drug-free, abstinence treatment programs to those suffering from substance abuse disorder. This regulatory change is particularly surprising given Governor Tom Wolf’s personal commitment and strong record in combatting addiction and supporting the recovery community.
DDAP is in the process of developing a licensure program for drug and alcohol recovery houses. According to DDAP Secretary Jennifer Smith, under the proposed regulations, drug-free, abstinence recovery houses would not be licensed and therefore unable to receive referrals or funding from the government. This would eliminate an important pathway to recovery. In order to receive referrals from state agencies or state-funded facilities or to receive federal or state funding to deliver recovery house services, all licensed recovery houses must allow their clients to use addictive substances within the program if they are on Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). This policy threatens to put many community-based abstinence treatment programs out of business.
In answering questions posed by Senator Street during a budget hearing on Tuesday, Secretary Smith said under oath, “The regulations as they currently stand – if you want to receive referrals or if you want to receive funding from us, you have to be able to accept individuals who are on Medication Assisted Treatment.” When Senator Street asked whether drug-free abstinence recovery houses would be required to create a protocol to allow for addictive substances on the premises, Secretary Smith responded, “That is correct.”
“For decades, abstinence-based recovery programs have been a lifeline for communities throughout Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and our country,” said Senator Street. “The very nature of these programs precludes any proximity to addictive substances – and they work. We also know that Medication-Assisted Treatment has also proven to be an important path to recovery. Both methods work for different people. The government should allow people to choose what works for them and not be in the business of punishing personal choice. I am pleased that the Wolf Administration has committed to working with me and my colleagues to ensure that drug-free recovery programs remain an option.”
Abstinence-based addiction recovery programs rely on a treatment model that requires a total abstinence of all potentially addictive substances and behaviors. Many people in the recovery community believe this model would be compromised if they were required to allow addictive substances to be used within the program, potentially in the company of someone struggling to remain sober.
“A recovery program like this saved my life,” said Kasib Carter who currently serves as Special Assistant to Senator Street. “I was living in Baltimore and addicted to heroin in the late 90’s and if I didn’t get help, I would be dead today. But I came to Philadelphia and got into an abstinence-based recovery program. What they told me was that if I were willing to get through the pain of withdrawal, I could live a drug free life. Today, I have a loving wife, a master’s degree, a beautiful home, and a great job working with the Senator. These programs saved my life, and they make a difference in the lives of countless people in Pennsylvania.”
Legislators from across the state from both political parties called on DDAP to change the regulation in a way to protect the continued existence of important abstinence-based programs.
“One size does not fit all in recovery treatment, and it is disappointing and dangerous that the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs wants to impose its philosophy on those struggling with addiction by penalizing different types of treatment through the withholding of funds,” said Senator Michele Brooks (R-Mercer), Majority Chair of the Senate Health & Human Services Committee. “While Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) can be a tool, not everyone chooses that path. Drug-free treatment is a proven alternative pathway that should remain open as an option, without the threat of losing their funding. We should be working together to help solve this crisis instead of limiting options.”
Democratic Chair of the Health & Human Services Committee Senator Art Haywoodconcurred. “I want to make sure that long successful detox programs are not jeopardized,”he said.
Senator Christine Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia) added, “We are here to support choices in how substance use disorder services are delivered and paid for. Under the proposed statewide drug and alcohol policy, we will be limiting our choices and depriving many Pennsylvanians of their best chance at sustained recovery.”
Senator Williams (D-Philadelphia) expressed his support for abstinence-based recovery programs which he credited for “helping to stabilize a generation when no one else would help during the crack epidemic that ravaged black communities.”
Many in the recovery community have been warning legislators for some time that funding for their services were being threatened by an increased focus on Medication-Assisted Treatment. The issue came to a head on Tuesday during a Senate Appropriations Committee Budget Hearing on DDAP. Senator Street asked Secretary Smith very detailed questions about how harm reduction requirements of proposed regulations on recovery houses may affect the funding of abstinence-based programs. Smith made it very clear that those programs would not be licensed if they did not allow patients who were using addicted substances as part of MAT, and if those programs were not licensed, they would not receive government referrals or funding. A clip of that exchange can be viewed here:
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