Our bi-county area urgently needs a detoxification (detox) facility where people with substance use disorder (SUD – addiction) can go to safely withdraw from psychoactive drugs and begin their recovery.
The Tri-Cities is the third largest metropolitan area in the state, and the only such area without a detox! (The community had a detox facility, but it closed in March.) Nearby, Yakima County with a population of about 250,000 has four residential detox facilities, and they are almost always full. Even much smaller Chelan County (Wenatchee), with a population of about 77,000, has a residential detox facility.
Addicted people need time in detox so drugs or alcohol can leave their systems and take the first steps to clear thinking. Detoxification is the “point of first contact with the treatment system and the first step to recovery,” according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency. SUD “hijacks” the brain so that addicted persons often don’t recognize their own illness or make decisions that lead to wellness.
Deep denial is a hallmark of the disease.
Detoxification facilities can be “social” or medical. Social detox simply offers an enclosed place to sleep and let the body begin to heal on its own. Patients generally are free to leave. Medical detox, or “medical withdrawal management” occurs in a secure environment where patients generally are not free to leave because they are receiving medications and being supervised by a doctor.
This type is best because addictions to drugs and even alcohol can be so entrenched that simply stopping the substances “cold turkey” can cause serious health consequences or even death. The security factor prevents the compulsions of addiction from leading people out the door before they can take the first logical steps toward recovery.
Detoxification saves money, quite simply, because addicted people cost money! Local law enforcement personnel report that many (perhaps most) property crimes and other small offenses are committed by people in active addiction.
Arresting, charging, sentencing, and housing these people in local jails burdens taxpayers with ongoing costs, as many addicted people return to jails over and over. Additionally, addicted persons may not be able work productively, and remain a burden on public services, families and churches.
A detox facility in the Tri-Cities could begin changing some addicted persons into productive, contributing taxpayers.
Detoxification is humane. Since brain studies have proven conclusively that addiction is a real disease, with measurable physical changes in the brain, we need to stop treating addicted people as moral derelicts, weaklings or “throwaways.”
We, along with the rest of the United States, are in the midst of an addiction epidemic. An American dies of addiction every 7.3 minutes, and at least two people per month die of overdose in Benton and Franklin Counties. When addiction-related deaths from pancreatitis, abscesses, liver failure, respiratory failure, suicide and other causes are factored in, the death toll is much higher.
Compassion, common sense, and financial responsibility demand that we have a secure, medical, local detox facility where addicted people can go to re-start their lives. Please contact our County Commissioners and other elected officials to ask them to fund a residential detox facility in the Tri-Cities.
Dr. Michele S. Gerber of Richland is an author and Hanford retiree. She is President of the Benton Franklin Recovery Coalition.