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Sen. Bates’ bill tackles marketing deception in rehab industry

Above: A bill by Sen. Pat Bates and Assemblyman Jim Patterson would prevent the drug and alcohol rehab industry from deceptive advertising. Pictured above is Southern California Recovery Center in Carlsbad. Photo by Steve Puterski

REGION — For years, residential treatment facilities and sober living homes have taken over neighborhoods up and down the state.

The “bad actors” are exploiting loopholes and those in recovery, which has led Sen. Pat Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) and Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) to act.

The pair introduced Senate Bill 589, which would prevent an operator of a licensed treatment facility, other certified drug or alcohol program or third party, from making false or misleading statements about their products, services and location.

It’s one step, Bates said, but a necessary one since there are no provisions in the California Health and Safety Code to curb unethical marketing, according to a senate analysis of the bill.

“They kind of work in unison, where you have this deceptive marketing in part of this whole system,” Bates said. “There are promises made that aren’t delivered. It is certainly harming those who are in there purposefully who are there to be rehabilitated.”

The bill unanimously passed the senate (38-0) and is now in front of the assembly.

Bates represents parts of Orange and northern San Diego County, and for years has been attempting to figure out ways to stop those bad actors from preying on people in recovery, while targeting insurance fraud.

The operators make between $2,000 to $3,000 per month, per person, paid either through insurance or out of pocket.

Additionally, Bates said the case of Brandon Nelson, who committed suicide after entering a program by Sovereign Health at a San Clemente facility, is another concern for the legislation.

None of the expected services were provided Bates said, which was also profiled by a story in the Orange County Register.

But the difficulty, she added, is individuals in these programs are a protected class under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Fair Housing Act.

So, Bates said, it is important to strike a balance with reining in the bad actors without violating the rights of those in recovery.

“They are protected, and what we are really trying to get is the ADA … when they are in these group homes there should be some oversight from local government,” she explained. “We’d like to see a little more oversight and apply for a license so we know where the sober living homes are and then they can regulate the conduct and whether or not they operating group homes or a treatment facility.”

Bates and Patterson have also authored AB 704, which would require a person hired by an alcoholism or drug abuse recovery or treatment facility to undergo a mandatory criminal record review.

The bill, though, is currently being “held under submission,” in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which means it is “probably dead,” according to Bates’ Communications Director Ronald Ongtoaboc.

Bates and Assemblywoman Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) co-authored a bill passed last year to provide a probation period for residential treatment facilities and show at the end of the yearlong process goals set forth have been met.

“One step forward at a time is going to make a difference,” Bates added. “They actually have to prove they are delivering the treatment and making difference in those cases. And if not, why not? Each bill we put up gets us close to reining in where most of the abuses are in the sober living homes because they are unregulated.”

Orange County and the Los Angeles basin have been a haven for residential treatment facilities and sober living homes, being dubbed the “Rehab Riviera.”

According to a 2017 series by the Orange County Register, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties are home to 1,117 licensed rehab centers; however, it doesn’t include thousands of unlicensed sober living homes, the paper reported.

There are at least 1,864 centers in the state.

According to an interactive map from the OC Register, 38 licensed facilities are in North County.

There are nine each in Vista and Encinitas, including a cluster of four on Country Rose Circle, seven in Escondido, and four each in Oceanside, San Marcos and Carlsbad, although Carlsbad residents have identified at least two others, and one in Elfin Forest.

Encinitas has one residential treatment facility for every 6,843 residents, making the city the 21st highest in the state for rehab centers per capita, according to the OC Register analysis.

Vista has one for every 10,770 residents, coming in at 31st highest in the state.