Closing detox facility has human cost

By Linda Grant

The Everett Herald recently reported on funding losses in chemical dependency treatment programs as a result of oversights in preparing for Medicaid Expansion, the program for low income under the Affordable Care Act. (March 10, “Cut in funding could close county detox center, drug programs.”) Since January, chemical dependency services statewide have experienced large unplanned losses in revenue — losses that did not occur prior to Medicaid Expansion. Some legislators fought to correct the situation, but in the end the state budget did not include language that to address the new gap in reimbursement.

The most crippling loss was to Evergreen Manor’s already underfunded acute detoxification service that admits 1,000 Snohomish County residents each year. Detox programs were legislated in 1972 as the affordable option to jails and hospitals. These programs provide short-term medically supervised withdrawal management, counseling and treatment referral through a multi-disciplinary medical, nursing and counseling staff. After 30 years serving Snohomish County, tens of thousands of individuals have begun their recovery from alcoholism and other drug addiction through Evergreen Manor’s detox facility.

It is with deep sadness that we have accepted that we cannot afford to continue our detox program after April. Chemical dependency treatment has taken many cuts over the years, but these most recent losses to detox, now exceeding $20,000 a month, are too great for our nonprofit to bear. We appreciate all the support we have received from the local health professionals, law enforcement, Snohomish County and the recovering community and regret that we must discontinue this effective and vital service.

The human cost of closing detox is heart-wrenching. Our typical admission today is a 17-25 year old opiate addict (many girls) who began experimenting with drugs and alcohol in early teens. Invariably opiate users started taking prescriptions drugs from parents’ or another adults’ medicine cabinets. Their stories often reveal parental alcoholism or drug use as well. Each day we receive 20-30 more requests for admission to detox than we have available beds. We also receive many calls for help from frantic parents, often in tears of fear and concern over what might happen to their young adult child out on the streets. Snohomish County needs to expand detox capacity, not lose the only 16 beds available to help people step out of the cycle of addiction.

Failure to fund detox is truly one of those penny-wise, pound-foolish decisions. Once we close our doors, there will be no savings — to either state, federal or local governments. In fact, costs for all levels of government will rise through increased emergency room and hospital visits, increased costs at the jail, additional use of fire district emergency medical services, and more calls to law enforcement. The price for not providing detox services is much higher than the cost of raising rates to an adequate level would have been. Now we, the taxpayer and the community, will pay those higher costs.

Linda Grant is CEO of Evergreen Manor in Everett.