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PART 3: State To Start Licensing Recovery Homes After KDKA Investigation

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - A KDKA investigation is getting results.

Last month, KDKA Investigates revealed serious concerns about recovery houses. There are thousands of them statewide, and several in southwestern Pennsylvania. They're supposed to provide safe, clean environments where people recovering from substance abuse can get clean and sober.

But unlike rehab centers, our investigation found many of these facilities are overcrowded, unregulated and under-supervised. Now, new state licensing regulations are about to go into effect, designed to weed out the bad recovery houses and ensure the quality of the good ones.

Our initial investigation found both good and bad ones.

In the bad, we found recovering addicts who said the facilities had an atmosphere of "anything goes," where they were free to use drugs and drink alcohol as long as they paid the rent.

"They're overcrowded. There are no rules. People come and go as they please," said Leo Hutchison. He operates several local recovery houses that appear to run well, but he agrees state regulations are well past due.

Sheehan: "So there has to be some standards?"

Hutchison: "Absolutely. There has to be something to prohibit someone from throwing a bunch of mattresses on the floor and calling it a recovery house."

As of next week, the state will begin the process of licensing recovery homes.

Operators will have to apply for licenses and will be required to undergo inspection and meet minimum standards.

"And according to the law, we can actually begin issuing violations and citations," said Jennifer Smith, the Secretary of Pennsylvania's Drug and Alcohol Programs.

Smith says she's received approval for a set of standards meant to ensure the safe and accountable operation of recovery houses.

Much like what our investigation uncovered, she, too, heard countless horror stories from the addicts themselves.

"They said, 'Man I've been to some of these places and they are a dump. They took money away from me, and there needs to be some oversight,'" Smith said.

Smith says under these new regulations, recovery houses that pass inspection and meet standards of cleanliness, in-house supervision and limited occupancy will be eligible for state funding.

She's hopeful that will allow people to begin to have confidence in these facilities.

"The public will have some assurance in where they are referring their family and friends, and so they will know the houses listed on our website meet minimum requirements," said Smith.

In Carrick, where 302 people have died from deadly overdoses in the past five years, Pennsylvania Representative Jessica Benham says she'd also heard about problems at recovery houses.

"Certainly we heard complaints of noise, about substance abuse, about overcrowding and lack of oversight and supervision," said Benham.

She says there's a need for responsible recovery houses to provide help to addicts while also being responsible neighbors to the greater community, and she says the new state licensing regulations are a start.

"I think they're a good first step, but I think we need to do more," Benham said.

Smith acknowledges bringing recovery houses into compliance and rooting out bad operators will be a work in progress.

"We will end up building up the houses that are doing this for all the right reasons, and hopefully we're going to start putting those who are in it for all the wrong reasons out of business," said Smith.

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