Steamboat Springs Seven men and women have utilized an alcohol detoxification program launched Feb. 20 in Routt County.
Medical, mental health, social service and law enforcement agencies in Routt County are working together to help people addicted to alcohol. Participants in the program get sober at the Routt County Jail.
"It's working reasonably well," said Tom Gangel, program director at Steamboat Mental Health Center.
Routt County, the city of Steamboat Springs and Yampa Valley Medical Center each committed $6,750 to keep the trial program running until June 30. Another $8,000 is coming from Colorado West Regional Mental Health, and client fees are expected to bring in another $500 a month.
About $1,000 has already been spent to train and pay mental health staff to monitor patients in the Routt County Jail and offer counseling after patients sober up. Another $500 has been spent to keep staff on call.
Police who respond to calls about intoxicated people no longer take the inebriated individuals directly to the hospital. People who need to sober up go to the jail unless their condition demands medical attention.
In the past, intoxicated patients who didn't require medical treatment tied up emergency department staff.
Emergency medicine physician David Cionni said staff members have noticed a difference since the new guidelines took effect.
Taking people who do not need treatment to the jail instead of the hospital has saved thousands of dollars in medical costs, Cionni said.
Mental health staff members have supervised detoxification clients at the jail for as long as 1l.5 hours. Other patients have been released to family or friends within three hours.
There were some concerns about where to house detoxification clients if all the holding cells at the jail were full, but no more than one intoxicated person has needed supervision at a time.
"We haven't had a call where we've had to scramble and deal with an alternate site," County Human Services Director Bob White said.
Two of the seven patients were confused about going to the jail when they had done nothing wrong, Gangel said.
One woman was so upset she kicked a police officer in the groin and wound up with assault charges.
The men and women who have worked to find a solution to the revolving door of alcohol addiction in the community are hoping for some success stories. But they recognize success depends not only on their ability to help people sober up after a long night of drinking but also to help them get sober long term.
The experimental detoxification program gives medical, mental health, social service and law enforcement agencies a foot in the door but it is not a comprehensive treatment center. Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction offer detoxification centers. People in Routt and Moffat counties are meeting monthly to look at ways to maintain a bona fide detoxification center in Northwest Colorado.
They are driven by stories like that of a Steamboat Springs man who was found intoxicated and taken to the jail, where mental health staff supervised him until he sobered up and could receive counseling. The man stayed sober for 10 days and was given a bus ticket to Glenwood Springs, where he was expected to get treatment for his addiction. But he sold the ticket, used the money to buy alcohol and fell back into his old ways.
Stories like his are disappointing, Gangel said, but all the more reason to not give up on finding a better way to help people who struggle with dependency.
People who are concerned about a friend or family member's bout with alcohol should call Steamboat Mental Health at 879-2141.