Aspen needs a detox
Around 11 a.m. on Jan. 1, an employee of one of Aspen’s most respected resort hotels called my home office saying a guest was drinking, had blacked out during the night in her fur coat and now wanted to go to the hospital.
I had met the woman by chance earlier in her two-week stay. She said she was an alcoholic but had resumed drinking after a time of sobriety and would likely return to Hazelden in Minnesota for further treatment in the near future. I gave her my professional card and offered to help her if she wanted.
So I wasn’t entirely surprised when the woman asked the hotel employee to call me. I agreed to go to the hotel, collect the woman and take her to the ER.
When we arrived at the ER, the woman was shaking badly and very agitated. When a bed became available, the ER staff started an IV, administered medication to calm her and did blood work. They were adamant that Aspen Valley Hospital does not have a mandate to provide detox for those in acute alcoholic states, and the woman could not be admitted to the hospital and would have to leave the ER by 10 p.m. To go where?
I was told the closest detox facility was in the Glenwood Springs jail. The next closest was in Grand Junction. I knew this was true because of my experience with The Right Door, a crisis-oriented agency for addiction-related problems here in Aspen that provides transportation to detox in other communities.
However, until Jan. 1, I had never experienced the consequences of Aspen’s lack of a detox center personally.
During the hours the woman was in the ER, she was sufficiently medicated so that she slept and was calm. When I arrived to take her from the ER to my home for the night before the flight to Minnesota the next morning, she was still far from ready to be released.
I was told by the ER physician that the woman’s blood-alcohol levels were such that she would not be in withdrawal until we arrived at Hazelden and gave me sufficient medication to keep her calm. However, the combination of alcohol and medication made her sick.
It was pathetic to watch this obviously suffering person vomiting as we walked down the hall to the exit of the state-of-the-art Aspen Valley Hospital, with a caring but powerless ER nurse following with a wet washcloth and barf bag. And once at my home, the periodic vomiting and my fear that she might aspirate matter and die from it, produced a sleepless night of great anxiety.
The next morning, the woman and I flew to Minnesota, where she was admitted to Hazelden and remains for treatment. As harrowing as the experience was, I feel grateful it resulted in a positive outcome.
But the point of this letter is that we were very lucky – the woman was lucky, and the elegant Aspen resort hotel the woman stayed in was lucky. And my fear is that there are and will be many such experiences that occur here in our community when the outcomes aren’t so lucky.
The woman could have died in the hotel. She could have aspirated her vomit in my home and died there. Who knows? She should have been in detox in Aspen.
Detox is a costly and thorny problem. Aspen has struggled with this issue for years. Detox isn’t cost effective; it isn’t glamorous; it isn’t top of the list of priorities. Yet for those who have lived through the consequences of Aspen not addressing this critical need responsibly, it is obvious we have a huge elephant in the living room of our community. An unnecessary elephant.
Surely, if there are enough of us with a will to explore options and take action to address this unconscionable lack, then Aspen, with all its extraordinary assets, can become an international model of addiction resources beginning with detox – for those who live here and those who visit.
If you would join with others willing to tackle this deeply troubling community problem, please contact this newspaper.
Dr. Martha Susan Horton, The Amate Institute
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