Opioid addiction is a national epidemic fueling a multi-billion dollar recovery industry, not just in enclaves like south Florida or Malibu, but also small, humble communities like this one in Northern Arizona.
Prescott, Arizona, with its motto, “Welcome To Everybody’s Hometown,” has become a hotbed of the narcotics industry, even listed by popular recovery website TheFix.com as one of the top 10 destinations in the country to get sober.
In fact, the town has become so popular for recovery-seekers that it’s now grappling with the costs and benefits of being in the national sober spotlight.
And in a big way. At last count, Prescott — population 40,000 — had more than 150 of these group homes. And new ones are popping up all the time.
According to local treatment and housing providers, what helps keep costs down and profits stable is the lack of regulation.
“Other than some city zoning and code enforcement, these sober living homes have no government oversight. That has caused what some in the community, especially longtime residents, are calling a crisis.”
“We are reaching a tipping point,” says Allison Zelms, Prescott’s deputy city manager. “When half of your street becomes group homes that becomes more institutional in nature, which is what the whole point is of the federal fair housing law. It’s to avoid that.”
Federal law prohibits discrimination against a protected class, including recovering addicts. But that has also led to a proliferation of these homes, which has confounded and angered many residents.
“When you’ve got a hundred boys and men trying to kick a heroin problem, how do you feel safe living next door to them when they’re falling off the wagon all the time?” she asks.
City records show a 70 percent increase in drug arrests from 2012 and 2015. Yavapai County, where Prescott is located, has one of the highest rates of overdose-related deaths in the state.
Is that a symptom of the larger opioid epidemic, as the recovery industry argues. Or a result of the influx of group homes?
Allison Zelms with the city says that’s certainly a major concern but perhaps an even greater one is the quality of care in some of these programs.
“Are people really being sold a bill of goods, or are they going to come to Prescott to really have a good chance of success in their treatment?” Zelms asks.
Without more oversight, she says, it’s difficult to know.