The lifeline: Right door provides crucial links to recovering community
In the life-and-death struggle of substance abuse, sometimes simply a voice can make all the difference.
A voice of experience, empathy, respect. Perhaps just as important, a person battling addiction needs a place to hear those voices and meet the people who have, in the words of one addiction expert, “been there.”
Such a place could have been the difference in the life of Aspenite Doug Valley, said his sister, Mia Valley. He died two and a half years ago from cirrhosis of the liver after battling alcoholism for many years. He was only 43.
Liver cirrhosis resulting from alcohol abuse is one of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States, according to Dr. Howard J. Worman. He is a liver expert at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.
Mia Valley, who owns an Aspen art gallery, stressed the need for a place where those entrenched in the sober community can help the newly recovering.
“There is not a clubhouse here ” like there is in almost every community ” and I think that could have helped him,” Valley said.
A meeting place is the goal of Brad Osborn, director of The Right Door and a certified addiction counselor. The nonprofit organization in Aspen works to bring together those in need of help with addicts and alcoholics who have stopped using and drinking.
“We’re trying to locate a sober house, a place where people can connect. The 12-step meetings can [use it],” Osborn said. “We’re hoping somebody will help us with a place that’s reasonably priced.”
Many of those already in recovery attend 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, independent fellowships that rent rooms from churches and other organizations throughout the valley to hold their meetings. If The Right Door is successful in acquiring a location of its own, it’s likely some groups would rent space from the nonprofit.
One 12-step member who requested anonymity made it clear that neither AA nor NA are affiliated with churches or other outside organizations, including recovery-oriented organizations such as The Right Door.
“We may meet in your neighborhood church once a week, but that doesn’t mean we’re members of the church,” he said.
Locating The Right Door somewhere in Aspen “would help a lot of people,” Osborn said. It would offer people a spot to gather and talk before and after work over a cup of coffee.
Which all begs the question: Why doesn’t the upper valley have a drug treatment and detoxification center?
Having such a center in Aspen “is a touchy [subject],” Osborn said. “Financially, it doesn’t work. They tried it.”
He said a drug treatment center with beds for patients had been located in a house at the Maroon Creek Club. The center closed nearly 20 years ago.
“You’ve got to keep the beds full,” Osborn said. “It’s not cheap to run one of these programs ” if you do an inpatient program, it’s 24-7.”
Colorado West Mental Health also had a detox facility in Aspen. But the organization closed it several years ago because of costs and a number of other reasons, said Osborn, who managed the center.
The valley’s only detox center is now in Glenwood Springs, a 45-minute drive from Aspen and Snowmass Village.
“It was really a blow to law enforcement and the hospital E.R., the people who have to deal with it,” Osborn said. “Where do you put them? They’re not really that sick, they’re just too intoxicated and you can’t release them. You have an obligation to keep them somewhere until they’re safe.”
Drunks and drug users often end up sleeping it off in one of the Pitkin County Jail’s two holding cells, which can cause other problems.
This is where The Right Door comes in. The group has three paid staff members, including Osborn, who are on call 24 hours a day, and about two dozen volunteers.
The staff and volunteers use an old sheriff’s sport utility vehicle to take intoxicated people to Glenwood Springs. And, if the parties are interested when they sober up, someone from The Right Door will be there to pick them up and return them to the upper valley.
“We have a list of volunteers from the recovering community that help us,” Osborn said. “We’re trying to get them connected to people who are already sober and who have been there.”
Osborn opened The Right Door with $21,600 that was awarded to him from a fund formerly used for the Tipsy Taxi service, which is now self-funded. He has since received grants from the city, the county and the Aspen Valley Medical Foundation.
Also providing a huge boost was Valley and her gallery, Valley Fine Art. Last December her gallery hosted a fund-raiser that generated nearly $160,000 for The Right Door.
Mia and her brother were born and raised in Aspen. She said living in a resort as a rule is tougher on people grappling with substance abuse.
“People are here to have a good time. It’s kind of more of a fantasy world as opposed to the real world,” Valley said. “Having said all that, addiction is a huge problem in all communities.”
During a recent series of concerts in Snowmass Village, The Right Door set up a temporary detox center on the mall. Instead of transporting a drunk person to Aspen, police officers took them to the office, “and then we figured out a plan of what to do with them,” Osborn said.
Staff members set up a similar site at the old youth center in Aspen during the X Games, treating 17 people, mostly young, for drinking-related problems.
Despite all the efforts, substance abuse “is still devastating. Even though we’ve got this program going, we are a long ways from being out of the woods,” Osborn said. “You think of all of the suicides that we’ve had this year in the valley. A lot of the suicides that we’ve had this year were related to drugs or alcohol or prescription medication.
“It’s not Aspen-specific; it’s just more prominent here because we’re a small community. So when one of these things happens, it affects everybody in the community.”
Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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