Detoxification program begins

Local agencies join forces for trial project

— People who need a place to sober up and receive some counseling for their addiction now have somewhere to go.

Today marks the launch of the county's trial detoxification program.

Medical, mental health, social service and law enforcement agencies in Routt County are collaborating on the project, which is slated to run until June 30.

"We're ready to go and see if we can make it work," Sheriff John Warner said.

Routt County, the city of Steamboat Springs and Yampa Valley Medical Center each committed $6,750 to help get the program up and running.

Colorado West Regional Mental Health is contributing $2,000 monthly during the four-month trial run. Client fees are expected to bring in another $500 a month.

The pilot program is an improvement over the current protocol for handling alcohol abuse and dependency. Law enforcement officials have been concerned about holding in the jail intoxicated people who might have medical problems, and intoxicated people who don't require medical treatment have tied up emergency department staff at the hospital.

Money from the city, county and hospital will pay for a network of on-call staff with mental health qualifications to screen patients brought to the Routt County Jail or hospital.

The decision to launch the trial detox program comes after months of collaboration among local agencies to find a solution to the growing number of alcohol and drug abuse cases in the county.

Parties involved in implementing the program are looking to the trial period to see what works and what doesn't work.

"This is going to be an experiment," County Human Services Director Bob White said.

What the project will look like after its trial run remains to be seen.

Law enforcement, emergency responders and medical personnel have received training on new guidelines that dictate how they should handle intoxicated individuals.

The biggest change is that police will no longer have to take intoxicated people in need of treatment to a detox center in Glenwood Springs, Steamboat Springs Director of Public Safety Services J.D. Hays said.

"We're going to be dealing with our issues right here, locally," Hays said.

Under the guidelines, police will now take intoxicated people who meet a list of specific criteria directly to a holding cell at the jail.

If intoxicated individuals fail to meet the list of criteria, police summon emergency medical personnel. The medical personnel will perform an evaluation and, based on it, either take the patients to the hospital or allow police to take patients to the holding cell.

Patients whose condition is deemed safe will remain under supervision in the holding cell at the jail until they sober up and are able to receive counseling.

Other locations, such as a hotel room, are plausible options if the holding cell is occupied.

"A lot of people have put a lot of work into this," said Karl Gills, Chief Executive Officer at Yampa Valley Medical Center. "Now we really are going to have something in place."

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