The B.C. government is responding to stories of deaths and poor care in unlicensed drug recovery houses by setting up a new registration system for the homes.

The BC Liberals deregulated the industry 10 years ago, and CTV News has since uncovered a number of troubling problems at individual private recovery homes – including a manager who was charged with dealing drugs himself.

But on Friday, Health Minister Margaret McDairmid said the government is introducing new cash incentives to recovery homes that register with the province, in an attempt to ensure proper care is delivered.

“[Addicts] are some of the most vulnerable people in our society and we need to make sure they are getting the best possible care,” McDiarmid said.

Under the new system, the Ministry of Social Development will provide $30.90 per client, per day at registered homes, and each resident will get a $95 per month comfort allowance.

McDiarmid said dhe was unsure how much the registration system would cost taxpayers. CTV News found about 850 unlicensed beds, meaning if everyone registered the total cost could approach $10.5 million per year.

The minister said she would not shut down unregistered homes, for fear of turfing addicts onto the street and causing more harm – but she said the system would give addicts a clearer choice of the kind of home they signed up for.

In the past year alone, CTV News has reported on several of the problems at some drug recovery houses, including a manager accused of taking kickbacks for methadone, and another who overdosed and was killed in an interaction with police.

Some houses are often unmarked suburban homes that don’t announce their presence to neighbours until disorder spills out into the street.

A CTV News investigation revealed that in the past three years eight addicts who went to unlicensed care homes to get clean ended up dead. That’s compared to only one in comparable public beds.

One person who died was a 31-year-old American citizen named Victoria Walker. Her recovery house monitor admitted she herself was high – and didn’t call for medical help before Walker overdosed.

Critics say those tragic stories happen in an environment of no regulation, where anyone can open a recovery house and collect welfare money from the provincial government to run it.

While there are good houses, horror stories abound of houses that send clients to food banks to cut down on expenses or profit from criminal activity, said Sherry Mumford of Fraser Health.

“We don’t do anything to regulate the safety or the health of these houses, and there are a lot of them,” she said.

Mumford presides over the Maple Ridge Treatment Centre, a 60-bed facility that offers residential drug treatment. At that facility, addicts have access to nurses on site, medication, privacy and security.

Also, if anyone were to overdose at the facility, there would be several layers of accountability, from detailed coroners investigations to reviews by Fraser Health.

“The most important thing for us is the health and safety of our clients,” Mumford said.

50-year-old MRTC resident Kimble Mortimer told CTV News he is glad to finally be battling alcoholism that has plagued him his whole life.

Mortimer said he looked at alcoholism as pain relief, or medicine.

“When I found out it worked was a breakup with a girl. This was back in grade 8, and drinking got me over it.”

Mortimer said he was glad for the network of drug recovery houses, because it got him off the street. But he agreed that something had to be done to make it safer for addicts.

Jim O’Rourke of Vision Quest Recovery Society, a drug recovery home affiliated with the RCMP, said he hoped the new funding system would make a difference – but he wasn’t sure the registration system would be enough.

“The houses that we need to worry about aren’t ones that get registered,” he said. “This could mean more paperwork for the rest of us.”