Local magistrates and judges who deal with crime every day are largely in agreement when it comes to one of the underlying causes: El Paso County needs more inpatient treatment beds for those battling substance abuse.
The push for more treatment options was a common theme at a gathering Friday at the Penrose House of the jurists who oversee the 4th Judicial District’s “problem solving courts.”
Those courts are designed to include treatment for mental health and substance abuse in the criminal justice process so that defendants can get the support they need to stay out of trouble.
“We are one of the largest jurisdictions in the state, and we have a very, very small number of beds for inpatient treatment,” said Magistrate Daphne Burlingame, who oversees the 4th Judicial District’s Recovery Court. “That just has to increase for us to be able to do our jobs effectively, and not have to send people to Denver or Pueblo.”
Inpatient treatment is necessary for some participants in the Recovery Court, which serves about 180 felony offenders whose crimes were primarily motivated by their addictions, Burlingame said.
But inpatient rehabs in Colorado Springs only accept private insurance or payment — not Medicaid, the most common form of health insurance among those in Recovery Court, she said.
So the court relies on the finite beds of other facilities along the Front Range that offset treatment costs with funds from the state’s Office of Behavioral Health, she said. Long waiting lists at those centers often leave patients without the high-level care they need for weeks, sometimes months.
The dearth of local beds has become more acute as a national epidemic of opioid use and overdoses has intensified, said Magistrate Jami Vigil, who oversees the Family Treatment Drug Court.
“We have seen a huge shift in that drug of choice,” Vigil told more than 100 people who attended the leadership summit.
She said meth was the drug of choice when she first took over the court’s docket in 2011. But now, more and more people in the program are addicted to heroin or prescription painkillers.
The intense withdrawal symptoms of opioids can make inpatient treatment a near necessity for some addicts, Vigil said.
Family Treatment Drug Court provides treatment and other support services for about 50 families who are involved in child welfare cases opened by the Department of Human Services. The program ensures that there’s always one sober caregiver, allowing children to stay in their homes instead of being placed with a foster family or relative.
Vigil estimates that the vast majority of the adults in the court require inpatient treatment for substance abuse at some point during the process. Many of them get doses of methadone, Vivitrol, or other drugs that can help them overcome their addiction .
But such drugs are not administered at Resada, the Las Animas-based rehab where Family Treatment Drug Court participants go for inpatient treatment, Vigil told The Gazette.
“We have a huge gap in services in our community,” she said. We don’t have any good options here.”
Exacerbating the problem is a shortage of beds at the local detox center, a facility near the El Paso County jail where people with drug and alcohol addictions can safely sleep off their high, Vigil said.
Th 20-bed center is a crucial resource for drug court participants who are chronic users, new to the programs or have relapsed, Burlingame and Vigil said. It can be the only alternative to jail, if a participant is intoxicated and doesn’t have a friend or family member to stay with to sober up.
Since the center reopened at a new location last month, it’s often been full, they said. On several occasions, the Family Treatment Drug Court has had all the paperwork ready to send someone to the facility, but learned at the eleventh hour that there’s no room, Vigil said. Burlingame said she’s tried to get four Recovery Court participants admitted into the center in the past few weeks, but only one got a bed.
The detox center, which also takes in self-admissions and referrals from local law enforcement and hospitals, once operated at 40 beds during peak periods when it was managed by the county and located on the jail’s campus.
The county passed the reins to Pueblo-based substance abuse treatment provider Crossroads Turning Points in late 2017. The new operator moved the center to Maxwell Street.
Crossroads’ interim CEO, Charles Davis, told The Gazette just before the reopening that the organization hopes to make more beds available, when it has the money.
“That’s definitely the next on our priority list — to see if we can get more funding to open additional beds,” he said.
At the time, Davis said that AspenPointe and Centura Health were providing some funding for the center. Client fees and Medicaid reimbursements would also help finance operations, he said.
Davis couldn’t be reached Friday.
Crossroads and other providers and community organizations “really are trying to meet the need” for detox and other inpatient treatment services, Burlingame said. “But the need is so great.”