Local detox center in jeopardy

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times

A local facility that provides a safe environment for people coming down off drugs or alcohol could be in jeopardy of closing if officials can’t solve a problem that recently came to light.

Nan Sundeen, Pitkin County’s director of Health and Human Services, warned county commissioners last week that state officials recently informed the Aspen Detox and Drug Testing facility that it can no longer operate with just one employee on duty. That means personnel costs associated with the detox center, which is open 24 hours a day and seven days a week, will double, she said.

“I think it will require a creative solution,” Sundeen said later in an interview. “It’s considered to be essential services in a resort community.”

Tony Passariello, program director of Mind Springs Health in Aspen, said the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health previously granted the detox facility a waiver allowing it to operate with just one employee. This year, however, the agency decided not to grant the waiver and Mind Springs decided not to fight the decision, he said.

“For safety reasons, yes, I think it’s a good decision,” Passariello said.

That’s because the two-bed facility not only can house people in need of detox services, it also conducts court-ordered drug and alcohol testing as well as private drug testing, he said. And if just one person is working, a detoxing client might not get the proper level of service, Passariello said.

Sundeen agreed.

“You really do have to have two people working,” she said. “We’re lucky something hasn’t happened.”

Still, doubling labor costs will add quite a bit to the detox center’s approximately $290,000 budget, she said. Pitkin County, Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt and Aspen Valley Hospital share whatever portion of that budget Mind Springs doesn’t receive in reimbursements, Sundeen said.

She said she recently wrote a letter to the state behavioral health office seeking assistance in finding a solution to the problem.

“It’s essential to our community,” Sundeen said. “We want to keep it, and we’re going to need help through funding or resources or rule changes.”

Passariello said he doesn’t yet know how much doubling the labor at the detox center will cost. Sundeen said she plans to have that figure and present it to the five entities that fund the center next month.

Bill Linn, Aspen assistant police chief, said the upper valley hasn’t always had a detox facility, and officers have had to send people all the way to Glenwood Springs at times. The lack of a detox center means “a huge gap in services for this community,” he said.

“It’s invaluable,” Linn said. “I wouldn’t even want to think about (not having it).

“Whether there’s a local detox center or not, it won’t stop people from drinking or stop that need for service.”

Sundeen said the facility “decriminalizes addiction.”

“Substance abuse remains one of the biggest health issues in the community,” she said. “We all know there’s a lot of partying here. People need help when they want to quit that lifestyle.”

The detox center, located at the county’s Health and Human Services Building, is the first step in that quitting process and can provide a link to treatment services, she said.