Call for more oversight of sober houses after overdose deaths

NEW LONDON, Conn. (WTNH) — Since 2014, there have been at least five overdose deaths in sober houses throughout the city of New London.

“Enough is enough,” said Human Services Director Jeanne Milstein.

She helped start a voluntary certification program for sober houses in the city. It is the first of its kind in the state.

nl sober house 3 Call for more oversight of sober houses after overdose deaths
(Photo: Tina Detelj/WTNH)

“You and I could go out tomorrow, buy a multi-family house, throw some mattresses on the floor, and call it a sober house,” said Milstein.

Homeowners must prove their property is sanitary, safe, and up to code to be certified. Residents must have access to support services and the homes are also required to have the opioid overdose-reversal drug Naloxone on hand.

“When your child dies in a place like that it’s not so safe is it?” said Lisa Johns.

She lost her son Christopher Oct. 2, 2014. He died in a sober house on Rogers Street which was also the scene of a second overdose death earlier this year. Johns helped start the group Community Speaks Out, which aims to help addicts find treatment. She will now help certify sober houses in New London through the program funded by Lawrence & Memorial Hospital.

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“Maybe it might just help somebody from not dying,” said Johns.

She knows people will relapse, wherever they are.

nl sober house 1 Call for more oversight of sober houses after overdose deaths
(Photo: Tina Detelj/WTNH)

“But at least we can make it a little tougher and we can get the extra supportive services for them,” said Johns.

She’s hoping things like bed checks and stricter rules can make a difference.

“The house is only going to be as good as the head,” said Michael Perry.

He lives in a sober house and says homes are like restaurants.

“If it’s a clean restaurant now you have more motivation and inspiration, yeah,” said Perry.

A Bank Street sober house, which was the scene of the most recent overdose death, is one of only two currently seeking certification.

Lisa Johns says she wants these houses certified so badly she’s willing to waive all costs and fees for the first few homeowners who request certification.

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