WEST PALM BEACH — Loopholes in current laws regarding "sober homes" has prompted a task force to consider introducing stronger regulations.

John Lehman, president of the Florida Association of Recovery Residences (FARR), said his committee looks to protect three groups when discussing ways to enforce these laws: the residents, the families of the residents and the surrounding community.

"We recognize that the communities have real concerns based on factual evidence that there are a lot of substandard programs out there that are operating in single-family neighborhoods and are negatively impacting the safety and integrity of those communities," Lehman told the Florida Record.

FARR evaluates and monitors recovery services like those of the "sober homes," which are halfway houses for residents recovering from addictions. When it comes to caring for these types of residents, Lehman said we should “reframe how we intervene to assist individuals.”

"It's wonderful to have laws,” Lehman said. “But what we have seen in Florida and other states is that having the law on the books does not necessarily mean that the law is followed."

Lehman said Farr has been raising concerns about this matter for five years.

"We shut down a couple of programs that were really bad abusers," he said. "There's a lot of sub-standard service delivery in Florida."

In order to find the best ways to intervene and help these residents, FARR entered into a contract with Sheffield Hallam University to interview 650 residents and research eight certified programs. Lehman said that, in addition to the law, researching how to best help the residents is crucial.

"If you were to ask me which of the two I think is likely to produce the most positive result, it's [the research]," he said.

FARR has now received cooperation from the Florida attorney general’s office, a U.S. federal grand jury and the Palm Beach County state attorney's office. Because of these collaborations, Lehman is hopeful for the future of resident care in Florida.

"I am very hopeful that we now have sufficient focus and commitment to cleaning up this mess, that 2017 promises to be a year of change,” he said. “And I could not say that last year, and I couldn't say that the year before. I think 2017 promises to be a bellwether year for this clean-up effort and also for the introduction of interventions that will actually make a difference in the consumer's experience of recovery here in Florida and beyond."

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