By Anna Boiko-Weyrauch
Plans are coming into focus for new health care providers to assume operation of Arapahoe House’s drug and alcohol detox services. In December, the Denver metro-area provider announced it will cease providing the services because of financial concerns. Instead of disappearing all together, though, other organizations will take over Arapahoe House’s three detox locations in Adams, Arapahoe and Jefferson counties.
Westminster-based nonprofit addiction treatment organization Community Reach Center will assume operation of the Commerce City location on or around March 31. Aurora Mental Health will soon run the Aurora location, with a target date of mid- to late-April, and Jefferson Center for Mental Health is in discussions about taking control of the Wheat Ridge location, although nothing is decided yet.
When Arapahoe House announced the closures, Adams County officials phoned Community Reach Center CEO Rick Doucet on a Friday asking for help, he said.
“By the end of the weekend I knew I was getting into the detox business,” he said. “In my mind, I didn’t have a choice.” Otherwise, Doucet said, people under the heavy influence of drugs and alcohol would overwhelm local jails, emergency rooms or his organization’s crisis-response programs.
Aurora Mental Health also stepped up to make sure police officers’ time, as well as emergency room and jail space, were not taken up by people experiencing withdrawal and made unavailable for others who needed services, Chief Operating Officer Kathie Snell said.
The organization intends to transfer Arapahoe House’s facilities and staff over as seamlessly as possible. “We want to make sure there’s no disruption of services for the community,” Snell said.
In essence, drug and alcohol detox services give substance users food, a place to lie down and someone to monitor them as they go through withdrawal—a process that is uncomfortable at best, potentially fatal at worst, and can last up to three days. Detox is one step in substance abuse treatment, but is insufficient on its own. Arapahoe House’s services are known as “social detox”—that is, the group monitors people withdrawing but doesn’t prescribe medicine or provide medical treatment in the process.
While social detox is important, the lack of medical detox services in Colorado is a gap, said Dennis Ballinger, addiction services director at AllHealth Network, another provider of behavioral health and substance treatment in the state.
More medical professionals should help oversee withdrawals and ease what can be a horrible and potentially dangerous situation, Ballinger said.
Alcohol withdrawal can cause potentially fatal heart problems and seizures among severely dependent people, while those experiencing heroin withdrawal may experience flu-like symptoms and muscle tremors, as well as vomiting and diarrhea.
People from different socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds suffer consequences from drug and alcohol addiction at different rates. In particular, people who suffered childhood trauma are disproportionately represented among addicts, Ballinger said, while people of color are underserved and marginalized for the disease of addiction.
Nationally, American Indians and Alaska Natives are more than six times as likely to die from alcohol-related causes than all races put together. Drugs and alcohol were the leading cause of death of homeless people in Colorado in 2016.
In 2013 and 2014, Coloradans with incomes of less than $25,000 were more likely to binge drink than higher earners, according to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data.
One 2013 study of national data found blacks, Native Americans and Hispanics were less likely to complete substance abuse treatment than whites because of higher unemployment and less stable housing.
Doucet would like the Community Reach Center’s forthcoming detox program to help funnel substance users into the organization’s treatment programs to address the trauma, mental health issues, genetic or familial predisposition, or emotional or financial crises that prompted a person to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, he said.
Aurora Mental Health has the same long-term goal of integrating detox services with its other crisis services, and even potentially expanding its focus as far south in the metro-area as Castle Rock, Snell said.
The Harm Reduction Action Center and needle exchange in Denver sends its clients, who are drug users, to Arapahoe House’s detox services daily or about every other day, executive director Lisa Raville said. Clients need to detox to enter inpatient drug treatment.
“We needed someone to take it over,” she said. “That’s great news for our community.”
People are admitted to Arapahoe House’s detox services up to 14,000 times a year, representing about 10,000 people.
Arapahoe House has said that the closures were due to the high cost of providing services relative to what the organization receives through insurance reimbursements.
The business office at Community Reach Center presented Doucet with a balanced budget for the new services, he said.
“If I didn’t think it was sustainable, I wouldn’t do it,” Doucet said.