Senate Bill 1361 aims for stricter oversight of unlicensed sober living homes in Arizona

A new Senate bill aims to crack down on sober living fraud in Arizona. This comes after bad actors in behavioral health defrauded the state's Medicaid agency for a billion dollars. Now a lawmaker says his bill can tighten up loopholes in the sober living scheme.

Senate Bill 1361 continues to move through the Arizona legislature, passing through two committees and the caucus. The proposed legislation increases civil fines and regulation for unlicensed sober living homes, taking advantage of those fighting addiction.

"It’s been newsworthy what’s been happening with the sober living homes. It’s been a lot of abuses, a lot of concerns about people’s safety," said Republican State Senator Frank Carroll of District 28.

Carroll has seen the coverage, and over the past year, he's heard from concerned residents in Surprise and Peoria about shady sober living homes popping up in neighborhoods. His reaction to a billion dollars reportedly stolen from the state's Medicaid agency – reimbursements for treatment never provided:

"It’s a terrible shame, waste of taxpayer money and then the recipients of the service that they’re supposed to get, the sobriety lifestyle to improve their quality of life, to get back to being a normal citizen, they’re missing out on as a result of it."

The sober truth is fraudsters recruited thousands of vulnerable people with drugs or alcohol, and left without supervision. The city of Surprise supports SB 1361 the senate's Health and Human Services committee.

"We had individuals that our public safety encountered wandering the streets of Surprise lost, not knowing how they got there, not knowing where they were or how to get to where they wanted to be," said Tiffany Copp, Surprise's Assistant Director of Community Development.

Carroll's bill would redefine the term "sober living home" as a house for two or more unrelated people receiving treatment or recovering from alcohol, drug, or substance abuse.

"We found there’s some gaps with respect to the health department’s ability to regulate that, there’s some licenses out there, there’s some unlicensed homes operating," he said.

The Department of Health Services would also have to investigate a complaint regarding unlicensed sober living homes within 30 days if the bill is passed into law. A legislative liaison with DHS said the state's agency is neutral on the bill, but would have to hire a lot more staff and increase licensing fees. The department issued more than 2,000 citations involving sober living homes last year alone. 

The Goodyear Police Department is also in favor of SB 1361. Officer Scott Daniel had no idea what a sober living home or group was in 2019, but says there are now a little more than 150 overall, but only five have been confirmed to be licensed by the state.

"We are asking for transparency, changes in the law to help us balance protecting our neighborhoods, helping legitimate patients seek treatment. Numerous calls. We go on to these type of group homes or anywhere from domestic violence, burglary, theft, rape, aggravated assault and all too often overdoses."

A civil penalty for a violation would be $1,000, up from the current $500 fine. 


Mesa PD: Luxury condo complex was a hub for ‘numerous’ sober living homes, alcohol abuse and violence

Remember the luxury condos in Mesa we told you about that were overrun by unlicensed sober living homes? Fox 10 Investigates uncovered police reports detailing what exactly was unfolding and how it was allowed.

District 7 Democratic State Senator Theresa Hatathlie is a member of the Navajo Nation who is also introducing a handful of bills related to sober living issues. She says penalties for unlicensed sober living homes should be much higher.

"I've had to listen to my people talk about the many deaths in the communities based on what has happened in the sober living homes. I don't think $1,000 even covers that amount. I go home and people are still crying. They're still mourning. It's horrific. It's atrocious."

SB 1361 heads to the senate floor next for committee of the whole and third reading. 

Since the start of the new year, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) has not suspended one behavioral health provider after suspending hundreds last year over a plethora of different Medicaid fraud allegations.

For our continuing coverage on the sober living crisis and AHCCCS fraud, head to