Unlicensed drug recovery house sheds light on need for stronger regulation

Posted at 11:29 PM, Mar 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-06 07:20:45-05

LEE COUNTY, Fla. -- A Cape Coral rental property which was operating as an unlicensed drug recovery residence is shedding light on a growing industry that has very little regulation.

The homeowner rented his canal access home to a woman, Jennifer Feriola, and her children in 2015; however, the lanlord recently learned his home was being marketed on a now deleted Facebook page as a sober house called "The Integrity House of Cape Coral."

A Cape Coral Police report states two men living at the home told an officer it was a "sober house" and that they signed a "lease" to live at the home.

Feriola told Fox 4 news she had no knowledge of the "The Integrity House of Cape Coral." When asked if she knew about people signing contracts to live at the home, Feriola stated she hadn't witnessed such activities.

"I wasn't here for any of that, and like I said, I think our lawyers are going to come to a good agreement," said Feriola.

The homeowner's fiancee, Sharon Downs, says the residents in the home were under the impression they were living in a drug recovery house.

"They know they're profiting by subletting my home to convicted felons," said Downs.

A lease signed by Feriola prohibits subletting; however, the fact someone was operating a recovery home from the property, without a license, isn't illegal.

According to Florida law, a recovery house doesn't need to be certified in order to operate. However, if the business is unlicensed it's illegal for a treatment center to refer patients.

"The residents that are now in my home, they believed they were under a Sovereign Health care provided home," said Downs.

Feriola, who signed the lease, is the former operations director of Sovereign Health of Fort Myers; a drug treatment residence.

Human resources for Sovereign Health says Feriola was recently let go. Fox 4 news contacted Sovereign health's attorney's multiple times; however, they hadn't returned our calls by the time of this report.

Nextep operates nine outpatient substance and recovery residences throughout Cape Coral and Fort Myers. They are the only homes that have been certified by the Florida Association of Recovery Residences.

The Operations Director, Rob Raab, says despite Florida Statute 397.487 many treatment centers still refer patients to unlicensed recovery residences.

"Honestly treatment centers still refer to non-certified residences. I'm not going to name names, but I know it's still done," said Raab.

He once lived in recovery home himself; and says there are several quality unlicensed sober houses in Southwest Florida, but without stronger regulation separating the good from the bad is nearly impossible. 

"It's about saving people's lives. Please don't let one bad operator and one bad incident tarnish what we're trying to do," said Raab.