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Sobering start for Aspen detox facility

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – Aspen’s new detox facility is off to a slow start since its founding more than a month ago.

The on-call facility, which opened at the Pitkin County Health and Human Services Building on Feb. 1, handled 13 admissions during its first roughly seven weeks of operation, according to Dr. Andrea Pazdera, program director for Colorado West Regional Mental Health’s Aspen Counseling Center. The center runs the detox operation, providing a two-bed facility where individuals can sober up and, as needed, be channeled into treatment or counseling programs.

“We’ve had kind of a slow startup – weekends tend to be busier,” Pazdera said. “I think we’re still a little under our expectations.”



The facility was to open Jan. 1 but staffing it – six on-call individuals have been hired – took longer than initially expected, she said. Detox services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week; response time for the on-call staff is an hour or less.

The counseling center did provide a temporary, in-town detox facility on New Year’s Eve in Aspen and handled four patients that night, according to Pazdera.




Since the detox facility opened, there have been times already when demand might have exceeded the two-bed capacity, but with two patients already in detox, a third was either not medically cleared or was combative. In either case, the individual isn’t accepted for detox but instead remains in the care of Aspen Valley Hospital or is housed at the Pitkin County Jail.

The tally of detox admissions so far includes six patients in February and seven this month, as of Friday morning. They include individuals who overimbibed and needed a place to sober up and patients who required further care for substance-abuse issues, Pazdera said.

“I can think of at least one detox within the last two weeks where we’ve had someone in rehab within 24 hours,” she said.

The detox facility is meant only for short-term stays and offers non-medical treatment services, but follow-up options include hospitalization, participation in a residential, outpatient treatment program or counseling.

The new detox approach was born out of discussions involving a coalition of agencies, including law enforcement officials, the hospital and others after Colorado West closed its detox facility in the Garfield County Jail in the fall. In addition, The Right Door in Aspen shut its doors late last year. The latter did not offer detox supervision but provided case management, referral services, transportation to detox facilities and drug testing.

At the new detox facility, Colorado West provides on-call service and drug testing, as well as referrals. It follows up with patients regularly for up to 90 days. Colorado West also operates the Aspen Counseling Center, in the same building.

Among the facility’s goals was to free the hospital emergency room and the county jail from caring for individuals who required a place to sober up but didn’t need medical attention and weren’t under arrest. If the person couldn’t be released to a responsible friend or family member, there were no local alternatives to the hospital or the jail.

While jailers continue to deal with some individuals, including one early this week, the number of detox holds at the jail seems to be down, according to Don Bird, jail administrator. That suggests the detox facility is seeing them instead, as is the goal, he said.

“I don’t know what kind of business they’re doing, because they’re not showing up here – and that’s a good thing,” he said. “At this point, it seems to be working in our favor.”

Pazdera expects use of the detox facility to pick up as law-enforcement officers and emergency-room physicians get more comfortable with sending patients there.

The slow start, she added, was also the result of some initial cell-phone reception issues that posed hurdles to arranging for detox stays. In addition, some potential detox candidates were instead referred to medical treatment at the local hospital or on the Front Range.

Before the facility opened, its projected use in the first year included 300 detox cases, managing the cases of 280 individuals referred by the courts and other agencies, and providing about 3,100 drug tests. Colorado West anticipated getting 23 to 30 percent of clients who stay at the facility to sober up into treatment.

First-year costs for the operation were projected at $273,445. Money that went to The Right Door, primarily from the hospital and Pitkin County, totaled $240,600, but Colorado West said it hoped expenses and revenues would even out over the first two years of the program’s operation.

janet@aspentimes.com


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