New Directions for Women CEO Wants to Help Solve OC's Sober Living Home Problem

To help solve Orange County's ornery problems with unlicensed sober living homes, “good actors” such as the operators of New Directions for Women in Costa Mesa need to be brought to the table with city and county officials, according to the nonprofit's chief executive officer.

Rebecca Flood was interviewed for the current cover story on Faith Strong, who has been in recovery for 52 years and has given a good chunk of her oil fortune to New Directions.

Not in that piece are Flood's thoughts on OC's war on sober living homes. Orange County’s coast is part of the so-called “Riviera of Rehab,” with hundreds or thousands of sober living homes (depending on whom is doing the counting) extending from San Clemente up the coast to Huntington Beach and inland from Aliso Viejo to Garden Grove. The proliferation has been accompanied by neighborhood complaints about noise, cigarette smoke and used condoms and needles.

These complaints have sparked town hall meetings, including one last May in Laguna Hills, where Assemblyman William Brough (R-Dana Point) mentioned that local leaders need to tap into the expertise of good actors in substance abuse recovery to combat the bad actors.

Flood, who became the leader of New Directions for Women 12 1/2 years ago, after having directed treatment at Seabrook House in New Jersey the previous 26 years, agrees wholeheartedly with Brough.

She believes the local problems with sober living homes have been caused by too many people, and especially younger people, dying from drug overdoses, there being a sizable need for rehabilitation programs and, unfortunately, too many “bad actors and actresses” swooping in to fill the vacuum—and their own pockets.

Add to that the Affordable Care Act, which has resulted in more people being insured, and “venture capital money has been blown into the addiction space like never before,” Flood says. “Some folks do not care about quality care, they care about making money. They cloak it in they are trying to help others, but they provide unlicensed programs and substandard care.”

The phenomenon is increasing homelessness in Orange County as out-of-state programs fly patients in for recovery care here—then, once the addicts' insurance runs out, they are kicked out on the streets to fend for themselves.

“It’s very sad,” says Flood, whose facilities provide nationally and internationally recognized detox services and long term, intensive sober living care.

Asked if the sober living explosion is merely reflective of a massive increase in addicts, Flood says, “The need has always existed, there is just more awareness of the need and more access to care. There is not the feeling of shame and guilt so much around this disease.”

But she believes alcoholics, drug addicts and their families need to wake up to the fact that besides addressing the immediate symptom of over-indulgence (and all the crap that brings), there needs to be a long, hard slog getting to the bottom of the over-arching problem that has them turning to drugs and booze. Getting to that point can take much longer than the period of time insurance companies grant for coverage of sober living home stays.

Meanwhile, Flood believes medical doctors need to know that just because they have access to prescription pads, they should not prescribe large numbers of pills per bottle, realizing that limiting painkillers will require some “tough conversations” with patients.

“A three-day supply of Vicadin is better than a 30-day supply,” she says. “In 30 days, you can get addicted. In three days you can’t.”

While another “good actor,” Cliffside Malibu founder Richard Taite, fears that the heat coming down on unlicensed sober living homes will be so broad that it will scorch reputable operators like him, Flood says “I have not been effected like many programs have” by increased government scrutiny.

“We are zoned where we are allowed to be,” she says in reference to her location, which encompasses nearly an entire residential neighborhood in far eastern Costa Mesa, near Upper Newport Bay. “We adhere to the highest standards and we run credentialed programs. We are good community members and good neighbors.”

Which is why she believes she and other reputable recovery professionals with decades of experience in Orange County need to be tapped by city and county officials for advice on how to deal with the unlicensed sober living home phenomenon.

“Bring us to the table.”

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