Treatment clinics could be targeted by new legislation

State Rep. Noel Frame (D-Seattle) says she is considering legislation to improve oversight of substance abuse treatment clinics in Washington state.
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A Washington lawmaker is responding to concerns raised in KING 5’s investigative series “Sobriety for Sale.”

State Rep. Noel Frame (D-Seattle) says she’s worried that addicts sentenced to drug treatment as part of a court-ordered sentence may not be getting the help that they need.

“I want to get to the bottom on this. I will reiterate, I think this is a major public safety issue,” Frame said.

The legislator from North Seattle’s 36th legislative district said she’s particularly concerned that employees at state-licensed clinics could be responsible for corrupting the treatment system.

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“I think the thing that concerns me the most about all the issues that have been raised is potential criminal activity at the heart of a situation where people really need help and support,” Frame said.

Frame said she’s considering proposing legislation for the 2017 session.

KING 5’s series reported on five state-licensed drug and alcohol treatment clinics where counselors are accused of soliciting bribes from clients. In exchange, the counselors allegedly allowed clients to skip treatment without the court’s knowledge.

Frame said it’s dangerous for the community and unfair to the addicts.

“These are folks that, with the right kind of support, could be healthy folks, back on their feet, productive members of society.  They deserve that chance and so does our community,” Frame said.

The KING 5 stories showed how judges are often unaware of complaints filed with state regulators about a particular clinic.

Improving communication between the courts and state regulators is one area that could be addressed in new legislation.

Frame is also looking at the maximum fine that regulators can impose on a clinic with serious violations. Short of shutting the clinic down, the largest fine the state can impose is $1,000.

“So perhaps we need to be looking at (whether) that is sufficient to doing the job to prevent bad activity,” Frame said.

One Tacoma clinic, A Change Counseling Services, faced numerous complaints in 2014 from a Bonney Lake Municipal Court judge and the Pierce County Department of Adult Probation. The Washington Department of Social and Health Services sustained findings that the clinic was reporting that clients were attending counseling when, in fact, they weren’t.

A Change Counseling was fined $1,000 for the violations.

A Change owner Clarence Farmer denied that he has ever accepted improper payments from any client and said that if his counselors were doing it, he was unaware.

Frame says she plans to talk to stakeholders in the treatment industry in the months before the legislative session begins in January. Then she said she’ll determine the places where Washington law may be lacking.

“Are there systemic issues that we can address to help prevent this in the future?” she said.

-- Follow Chris Ingalls on Twitter: @cjingalls.