About 200 Falmouth residents packed the auditorium at Falmouth High School on Tuesday evening to ask questions and voice concerns about the growing number of sober homes in town. Representatives from the the Massachusetts Alliance for Sober Housing, the organization that handles voluntary certification of the homes in the state, were present to talk about regulations and laws around the houses.
Deryk Meehan of the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services explained that because sober houses don't actually provide treatment for addicts - they simply are residential homes for those in recovery - it's difficult to formally regulate the homes.
"This is viewed as a protected class, and that this is a voluntary process by law, so even though it’s strongly advocated for...again it’s very much a voluntary process," he said.
Recent estimates have stated that Falmouth may be home to upwards of 50 sober homes, both certified and uncertified. According to the Massachusetts Alliance for Sober Housing, there are 17 certified sober homes in the town, a number that makes up 20 percent of the sober homes in the south coast region of the state.
A report given by Falmouth Police Chief Edward Dunne showed that although Falmouth has had its fair share of drug overdoses since the opioid epidemic picked up in 2013, a very small percentage of those overdoses have actually occurred in sober homes. in 2018, out of 103 overdoses, 11 were in sober homes, and for this year so far, out of 59 overdoses recorded, just 8 were at sober homes. Calls to sober homes also make up just a small proportion of the overall calls that Falmouth police receive.
Nonetheless, concerned residents like Curt McCall still thought there should be stricter, voluntary regulations on the homes.
"I just can’t wrap my hands around the concept of having housing for people who really need to be taken care of where there’s no required certification," he said. "I think this is an awful idea, and I think the push should be to get these homes under certification."
Many on the panel agreed that there needed to be stronger incentives put in place to make sober house owners certify their homes, such as tax benefits or penalties, but selectboard chair Susan Moran said that the town needs to be careful when drawing a line.
"We have a health crisis that costs the economy a lot of money, all those folks need to get support from somewhere, and in Falmouth we also have some excellent services, so we have to look at it with a 360 view to see what we’re doing right and what we can do better, it’s the whole picture," she said.