Addicts find help at center
They were told you couldn’t treat meth addicts.
Five years after Mesa County opened Summit View Drug Treatment Center, more than two-thirds of the 431 people who were sentenced to or volunteered for the residential drug treatment program have bucked that assumption by completing the center’s treatment program. Fifty-nine percent of the 299 graduates went at least two years after treatment without returning to a Mesa County courtroom.
The recidivism rate of 41 percent is higher among those who complete the program than the center’s original goal of 25 percent, but Summit View Manager Jason Talley said he takes some comfort in knowing not all clients who get arrested return to drugs. In fact, the largest percentage of the people who completed the program in its first five years and then got in trouble with the law within two years of completion were cited for traffic violations.
“We were told in our early days we would only have a 5 percent success rate” treating meth addicts, Talley said. “We feel we’ve proved otherwise.”
The effects of the center are being felt in the community. Felony filings fell 35 percent in 2011 compared with 2005, according to the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office and Mesa County Combined Courts. The number of child-dependency and neglect cases handled by the Mesa County Department of Human Services that involved meth fell from 75 percent in 2004 to 12 percent in 2011.
Mesa County Chief Deputy District Attorney Dan Rubinstein said national trends away from meth and the influence of gruesome advertising campaigns like Oregon’s Faces of Meth, a series of mug shots showing meth addicts’ looks deteriorating over the years, played a part in decreased meth use. But he believes the treatment center and other local initiatives had a strong role in meth’s declining impact on the local crime rate as well.
“We’ve now seen less calls from the public, the paper is not running big stories about meth. Everything changed for us and it’s born out in our numbers,” Rubinstein said.
Regimen of routine
The treatment center, 650 South Ave., started with a class of eight men, seven of whom completed the program. About two-thirds of clients still come through the court system, either as a condition of sentencing or as a pre-sentencing option, and about 90 percent of the curriculum is the same as it was on the first day. The center still treats men only, although the county decided a couple years ago to contract with Colorado West Regional Mental Health to offer a residential program for up to 10 women at a time. That program, The Women’s Recovery Center, follows the same 90-day-minimum treatment model used at Summit View.
The center’s daily schedule is the same as it was five years ago, with breakfast at 6:30 a.m., small group discussions and time filling out workbooks throughout the day, educational classes on everything from how to have a proper relationship to anger management in the evening, and lights out at 10 p.m.
Some people don’t make it through treatment the first time but return. Some have come back as many as four times before it sticks.
“Each time they seem to grow a little bit more. They don’t always get everything accomplished the first time,” Summit View Counselor Bill Wimsatt said.
The center has received more funding over the years to gradually expand the center’s capacity, which now stands at 36 beds. All but two or three beds are currently occupied, according to Talley.
He said he expects the center to grow to 48 beds as soon as a year from now. Within five years, he predicts the center may need a new, larger location. The demand for drug treatment, Talley said, isn’t likely to dissipate, even if meth is less popular.
“(Meth) isn’t going away, there’s just less of it out there,” he said.
The center opened 18 months after public fear and interest in combating meth and meth-related crimes spiked after Sam Lincoln shot fellow meth user James Finnegan in November 2005 in the desert north of Grand Junction. Lincoln shot at two deputies before he was captured a month later at a Glenwood Springs motel. He was convicted at trial and sentenced to 222 years in prison.
The then-new Mesa County Meth Task Force, which Rubinstein co-chairs with County Commissioner Janet Rowland, recommended more meth prevention education for youth, greater law enforcement surveillance and opening a county-run treatment center. Summit View was the first such center to open in the state, and it’s an idea that has been implemented only in two or three other Colorado counties, according to Talley. There also are some state-run programs.
The unique concept caught on with law enforcement, local government and treatment providers, according to Dennis Berry, director of Mesa County Criminal Justice Services. The $5 million Powell Building at 650 South Ave. that houses Community Corrections inmates on the first and second floor and Summit View on the third floor opened in 2007 and began accepting treatment patients June 13 of that year.
Berry said the county found it would cost less to provide treatment itself than contract with a private provider. The cost of the program — free to Mesa County residents — also was appealing.
“There weren’t that many programs to start with. Colorado West (Mental Health) had a 21-day program, but that wasn’t nearly long enough. There were some programs in Denver but they were so expensive you couldn’t afford them,” Berry said.
Some offenders would bond out with the intention of seeking treatment, then find out what it cost and end up back in jail. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates 60 to 80 percent of U.S. prison inmates have a substance abuse disorder. Berry said recidivism rates without treatment remain as high as 50 to 75 percent nationwide. Instead of “putting a Band-Aid on broken leg,” as he described it, Summit View was designed to help offenders who have been struggling for years with drugs and the legal system break the cycle.
“It still ends up costing taxpayer money upfront, but it saves in the long run because there are fewer victims and fewer crimes,” Berry said.
It costs about $63 a day per person to run Summit View. Talley said some state funding options added in the last few years help the center nearly pay for itself.
The center and the local justice system now are adapting to an increase in heroin and prescription drug abuse. Wimsatt, one of the three employees who started with the now-nine employee center, said he started noticing the shift about two years ago. A year ago, one or two residents at the center came in for heroin addiction. Now, the ratio of meth to heroin users in the center is about 50-50. More are on their way through the legal system.
“In another five years it will probably be something else,” Wimsatt said.
While the principles of treatment are about the same for meth and heroin addicts, according to Wimsatt, there are some differences in the clientele. Heroin addicts tend to be younger, in their early 20s, while Wimsatt said the average meth addict is 33.
Rubinstein said the age discrepancy could be a result of meth education steering today’s youth away from meth but getting little education about heroin, which was chic before some of today’s addicts were out of diapers. Heroin also is being marketed differently, he said, as “the new heroin” that can be snorted or smoked instead of injected.
The District Attorney’s Office sees more heroin addicts try to get money for their habit by stealing from family members or selling stolen items to pawn shops rather than taking the more violent route to a quick buck seen with meth addicts, Rubinstein said. He worries a potential downside to that shift could be that the community will be less affected by heroin and heroin-related crimes and therefore less interested in getting involved to stop it than residents in 2005 who formed the Meth Task Force.
The task force will go through an evolution of its own soon, as the group winds down. Rubinstein said the task force no longer has a coordinator and will become more of a substance abuse policy group that will look for any gaps in ways to address drug abuse in the community.
For those who have received treatment at the center, the future holds a mixture of uncertainty, hope and commitment. Adrian Chavez, a 30-year-old Grand Junction resident who completed treatment for meth addiction at Summit View in the spring of 2009, said he grew up in treatment and wants to make an honest living for his wife and blended family of six kids. He didn’t take treatment seriously at first, but a visit from his eldest son at Christmas in 2008 changed that.
“For me it was great. I made it right this time,” Chavez said. “I recommend it to anyone that’s serious. If you’re not serious, go sit in jail awhile and waste your own time.”