Now without oversight, new standards coming to South Carolina addiction recovery housing
After years of shooting meth and heroin, Charlotte native Kyle Baucom knew he would end up in prison — or dead.
He wanted a way out, so he sought help from a Greenville substance abuse recovery home. Then another one. Then another one.
None of them proved helpful, the 31-year-old said. Each place where he was offered a bed, the house leader would put him to work and collect the bulk of his paycheck, leaving him with very little money and a substandard place to sleep. He’s been in and out of recovery homes since 2012.
“Everybody around me was still getting high, and they were forcing me to work for wages I don’t even get to bring home. It put me in the mindset of not caring,” Baucom told The Greenville News. “It puts that type of person in a bad place. I ask for help and this is what happens to me.”
Baucom is like many Upstate residents suffering from drug or alcohol addictions, and finding a safe recovery home isn’t easy. There are a lot of options, but not all places adhere to the same qualities and standards.
A new effort seeks to change that through a federal investment into South Carolina’s recovery community.
The S.C. Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services has awarded grant dollars to national stakeholders that will help South Carolina track the safety of drug recovery homes. Papers were signed and sent this month to start the project.
Leaders will work to identify the number of homes that exist and give credentials to those homes that adhere to a set of standards. The homes will then be required to maintain their quality and be held accountable going forward.
There’s no requirement for recovery homes to adhere to the set of standards, but those that do will be added to a referral list used by clinics and probation officers. Essentially, people will no longer be referred to those homes that do not comply with maintaining a level of quality.
Over the next year, $125,000 will support these efforts needed to tackle the issue in South Carolina.
“We’re very excited to finally be able to have a mechanism that will ensure quality,” said Lee Dutton, the chief of staff for the S.C. Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services. “And we’re very excited to be able to accurately count (the number of recovery homes). We don’t know how many are in the state.”
The new effort comes after The Greenville News reported last year on the lack of oversight for addiction recovery housing in South Carolina. The story shined light on a need to raise the bar and break down an unmonitored barrier to recovery.
‘Opaque and misty environment’
A safe and secure recovery home with accountable housemates is an essential facet of long-term successful recovery for those struggling with addictions.
Too often, people with addictions take a chance at a recovery home that might not have their best interests at heart, said Nathan Tate, recovery services coordinator at the state Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, commonly referred to as DAODAS.
The addiction recovery industry has for years been largely unregulated. Nothing stops someone from renting out a room in a house and marketing it as a drug recovery home.
“Today we have this very opaque and misty environment,” Tate said. “Out in the mist, there are good places, but we have to be transparent about it and meet standards. And because that exists, the result is you won’t have other folks be able to operate these other sketchy, dangerous houses nearly as much as they do now.”
The National Alliance for Recovery Residences formed in 2011 and has been working with more than 25 states. The national organization is assisting the South Carolina Alliance for Recovery Communities in identifying the recovery homes that exist throughout the state.
The national alliance’s standards for certification focus on things like bed space, laundry services, overdose reversal drug availability, on-site staff, emergency plans and screening practices to measure a recovery home’s quality.
Tate compared adding standards to the addiction recovery industry to other areas of business that have regulations and oversight, such as restaurants. The difference is that the oversight organizations will not have the power to shut down a recovery house.
‘Long line of abuse’
Baucom, the Charlotte native, recalls being taken advantage of at several places that called themselves recovery homes. Some places sent him to work at a site his first night, and started him out with a $1,000 debt once there so he couldn’t work for any money for himself. Some ran on-site convenience stores for men to buy things like cigarettes and energy drinks, but the prices for the items were higher than anywhere else.
“The chances of finding a good house are slim to none,” he said.
It wasn’t until he found the Greenville-based recovery community called Freedom House that he began to get clean. The leaders there didn’t demand him to work right away; they only wanted him to lay low and worry about being healthy for a few days. A legitimate kitchen, bug-free beds and working plumbing were all things he wasn’t used to from his other recovery home experiences, he said.
He stayed in Freedom House for 15 months before moving out around last Thanksgiving and getting a place of his own, a home in Greenville he shares with a friend while focusing on a life of sobriety, he said.
“You buy a cheap house in a mill village and put four beds in it, and people will move in because they have nowhere else to go,” Baucom said of some recovery homes. “There’s no structure, no standards. No one is checking.”
Michael Todd, the founder of Freedom House and director of the South Carolina Alliance for Recovery Communities, is leading efforts to compile a database of recovery homes and seek credentials for each one willing to comply with standards.
The state alliance formed last year with the intention of finding a feasible way to build a network of credentialed recovery homes.
The federal funding comes through a State Opioid Response Grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The National Alliance for Recovery Residences will get $100,000 to give technical assistance to the state on best practices, teaching state leaders how to get individuals the best help through recovery homes. An additional $25,000 will go toward the South Carolina Alliance for Recovery Communities to help the organization maintain the database and work with houses to keep up standards, said Dutton, the chief of staff for DAODAS.
“We’re going to be able to get the slum lords and the flop houses out of this,” Todd said. “This is a great day for people with substance abuse disorders to start to get this intact. This has been a long time coming. There’s been a long line of abuse.”
According to DAODAS, there were at least 15 known addiction recovery houses in Greenville County last year. It’s likely others exist as well but are more difficult to identify, leaders at DAODAS said.
The national and statewide opioid epidemic is one area fueling the need for adequate recovery housing options.
Across the state, there were 1,001 drug overdose deaths in 2017 compared with 876 in 2016. There were 748 overdose deaths involving opioids in 2017, state data shows.
South Carolina ranks consistent with national overdose death rates, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. rate of overdose deaths is 21.7 deaths per 100,000 residents, whereas South Carolina’s per capita rate is 20 deaths per 100,000 residents.
Nationally, there were 70,237 drug overdose deaths in 2017. Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids increased by 45 percent from 2016 to 2017.
Housing safety in question
Trevor Maurice Hull, 51, of Greenwood, is the director of Second Chance Ministries in Greenwood. He was in federal court recently when a magistrate placed him to a home-monitoring program and ordered him to have no contact with the ministry while his charges are pending.
He was charged in a federal drug trafficking conspiracy involving 11 men who are accused of trafficking heroin and fentanyl out of Mexico and manufacturing and distributing the drugs throughout the Upstate.
Hull faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Magistrate Kevin McDonald said he was not comfortable with Hull being around houses that are designed for people to get clean from their drug addictions while he is charged with distributing drugs.
Court documents list two locations where drugs were allegedly manufactured, but Second Chance Ministries is not listed so it was unclear whether any criminal enterprises took place at any recovery housing.
Brent Scott, a manager at Second Chance Ministries who has worked with Hull, said Hull has run a clean and sober living environment for nearly 20 years.
“He’s been working 20 years to build this reputation and build a relationship around community,” Scott said. “There hasn’t been a verdict yet. We have to think of this guy’s reputation, too. He might have just been guilty by association.”
Scott said some recovery homes are “all about the money” and charge residents $200 a week or more without providing true recovery care.
Residents at Second Chance are charged $105 per week, he said. He said residents adhere to strict rules to grow personally and be upstanding citizens in the community.
“There’s a lot more to it than being clean and sober,” he said.
Tate, who coordinates recovery services for DAODAS, suffered from alcoholism for 14 years. After completing a traditional rehabilitation program, he found his way into adequate, long-term recovery housing beside a group of similar-minded men who all wanted to get clean.
“Without that, I don’t know if I would have ever become a history teacher, a father, a therapist, a graduate school student,” he said.
Not everyone finds themselves in the best environments, Tate said. And there’s often no way of knowing whether you’re in a bad environment until you’re already in the recovery community.
“The good ones aren’t publicized and the bad ones aren’t criticized, so we can change that — not overnight, but it’s a desire that enough people have,” Tate said.
He said it costs less money to get people into recovery housing than it does to house them in a jail or prison for various drug-related offenses and have them cycle in and out of the criminal justice system.
“The best outcomes come from when there’s environments that folks might go to during outpatient treatment that are conducive to them seeing to their mental health needs and engaging in substance abuse recovery support,” Tate said. “This leads to less recidivism and healthier, more self-sufficient, taxpaying, good citizens.”
As for Baucom, he’s been two years clean, he said. He wants South Carolina to have more viable options when it comes to legitimate recovery housing where those in recovery can feel valued and not exploited, he said.
“From an addict standpoint, you’re very vulnerable,” he said. “Something needs to happen.”
March 11, 2019
By Daniel J. Gross
The Greenville News