Local law enforcement and emergency medical service providers are exploring the idea of building a new social detox facility — also called a withdrawal management center — somewhere in Arapahoe or Douglas counties, which they say would make …
Local law enforcement and emergency medical service providers are exploring the idea of building a new social detox facility — also called a withdrawal management center — somewhere in Arapahoe or Douglas counties, which they say would make their lives easier and help those admitted to the facilities by shortening the distance to access services.
Social detox facilities provide a safe place for people overly inebriated on drugs and alcohol to sober up. Stays in the facilities are usually less than 48 hours, and professionals such as addiction counselors and social workers are on hand to help connect them with resources.
The metro area has four such facilities in Adams County, Jefferson County, Denver and Aurora. But only the Aurora location is used by Arapahoe and Douglas county sheriff’s deputies and area police departments.
The 30-bed facility, East Side Detox and Recovery Services, is located at 1290 S. Potomac St. in Aurora, sandwiched between a storage facility and medical offices, a stone’s throw from Interstate 225.
That means a Douglas County deputy driving a drunk driver to East Metro Detox during Friday rush hour may be out of his patrol area for hours, said Capt. Kevin Duffy of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
“That takes our deputies out of service while they could be helping others,” Duffy said.
He said the law requires officers to prioritize taking overly inebriated people to detox centers, or to emergency rooms if detox is unavailable, and as a last resort to county jail if detox and hospitals are full.
“We’re seeing a lot of our emergency room beds being taken up with psych holds or detox holds,” he said. “That’s not what the ER is built for. And county jails are supposed to hold bad guys. These people haven’t necessarily broken any law other than that they’re intoxicated to the point that they pose a danger to themselves. We don’t like detox holds in the jail, and there’s a lot of liability with holding someone who’s that intoxicated.”
The idea to add a new detox facility that’s more accessible to people farther from Aurora has been around for years, but started picking up steam after Aurora Mental Health Center took over East Metro Detox from its previous operator, Arapahoe House, said Heather Dolan, director of business development at Aurora Mental Health.
The idea is still in preliminary stages, Dolan said, with stakeholders only beginning to gather data and examine possible locations for a new facility. The process would involve extensive input from the public and county commissioners, she said.
“Everyone is well aware of the need to make sure it’s in a safe and appropriate place for the community and the people receiving services,” Dolan said. “We’re here to provide a service to the community, where they want it. We’re not trying to impose it.”
Arapahoe House, a nonprofit that operates a variety of addiction counseling services across the metro area, announced late last year that it would pull out of operating detox facilities. Aurora Mental Health picked up the contract to operate East Metro beginning in May, and with the contract came the long-discussed idea of building a south metro detox facility.
Addiction services providers in the metro area are overseen by Signal Behavioral Health Network, a managed service organization or MSO, a nonprofit that answers to the state Office of Behavioral Health, part of the Department of Human Services. Signal put out a request for proposal earlier this year to build a new detox center, and Aurora Mental Health submitted the only letter of intent, Dolan said.
Running the existing facility has been going well so far, said Brian Gannon, deputy director of Aurora Mental Health.
“Our operations have been running extremely smoothly,” Gannon said. “We’ve had great communication with our partners like hospitals and law enforcement.”
Funding comes from a hodgepodge of sources, Dolan said, composed of Medicaid revenue, third-party insurance, city and county support and self-payment from clients, with Signal providing gap funding. The same funding sources would likely be employed to build the new facility.
“Social detox” facilities — and their proximity to clients — are important for addicts seeking recovery, Dolan said.
“A social detox center is one step in a continuum of care, and oftentimes the best entry point,” Dolan said. “It’s better than being on the streets, or in jail, or in the ER. Having a facility near you allows for greater use of that facility.”
The next steps will be gathering data, Arapahoe County Sheriff Dave Walcher said.
“It takes a lot of work to know if we should even consider this,” Walcher said. “We have to really get all the numbers of how agencies are utilizing detox centers and emergency rooms. We need to know more about where people are coming from, where the location should be, what the cost would be. It’s not even close to decision time.”
Where to put the facility is a prime concern, Duffy said.
“A detox facility has to be in a place that’s zoned for it,” he said. “You’re not going to put it in a residential area. Land is very expensive. The perfect case scenario would be to find an existing building so we don’t have to build from the ground up.”
Stakeholders are aware that some opposition is inevitable, Duffy said.
“There will be naysayers and people who are nervous about this, and part of the job is to be transparent and honest, and to answer questions,” Duffy said. “Sooner or later, the most important group to get behind this is the public. We’re trying to do this for the public.”