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SLO City News

SLO Grand Jury Looks at Lack of Safe Detox By Camas Frank

“The County Health Agency’s Drug and Alcohol Services should resume its concentrated efforts to develop a residential detox service in the County to serve its Medi-Cal and less financially able citizens,” state recommendation #1 of the San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury 2016-2017 Report on Detox Services.

According to the recently released SLO County Grand Jury report dealing with services available to people trying to get off drugs in the area, not much has improved in the last four years.

In July 2014 SLO County Drug and Alcohol Services started a new program to help alcoholics and those in withdrawal from methamphetamines to detox.

“The medical consequences of alcohol detox are quite risky for long term users,” Jeff Hamm, SLO County Health Agency director told the SLO City News at the time. “People don’t understand the importance of clinical intervention. ‘Cold Turkey’ is not easy.”

However aware agency officials were of the need at the time, they often felt that their hands were tied as the County didn’t have the money for a new residential treatment facility; most of those are privately run and in larger population centers with the closest being in Santa Maria. That was at least, until 2016 when as the report put it, “a private, high-end medically oriented residential treatment service has opened in South County to meet some of the County’s need.”

The Affordable Care Act and the Covered California insurance program was seen as a solution to that situation, but given that the Grand Jury factored in the research from County Health before drafting their report, their members didn’t appear to believe enough has been done since.

The Grand Jury report, “How Long Will the Need Go Unfulfilled? Residential Detoxification in San Luis Obispo County,” states, “The need for residential detox treatment for persons addicted to drugs and alcohol in San Luis Obispo County is evident every day by the large number of people going through withdrawal in our County’s Jail.”

The County’s Behavioral Health Department, Sheriff, District Attorney, and the San Luis Obispo City Police Chief have all been required to respond to findings and recommendations addressed to them. Of particular interest are the efforts ongoing at the County Jail and possible services to be provided at a CAPSLO run Homeless Services Center under Construction currently on Prado Road in the City of SLO.  Only two beds  – out of an expected three  – are set to be made available for detox patients, they found, and there have been no resources established to administer them.

Additionally, “For the county’s lower income residents in particular, the jail remains the de facto detox facility, and it is only available for addicts who end up violating the law,” the report states, “The jail is not designed to deliver treatment. It provides some limited medical assistance to reduce complications from withdrawal but is neither resourced nor organized in ways to provide the supportive environment or services known to lead to better outcomes.”

A statement drafted by the Sheriff’s Office ahead of the required response date would tend to agree, or at least not disagree, “We have reviewed the report and we generally don’t have a disagreement with their findings. The law outlines the process for responding to the Grand Jury. We plan to honor that process by issuing a more comprehensive, formal response to the Grand Jury at an appropriate time and as prescribed by law.”

Responses are required 90 days from the report issuance, but the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors must typically review those from the agencies they administer ahead of the due date.

Grand Jury Foreman Pro Tem Dennis Frahmann noted that the selection process for the 2017-2018 Grand Jury is currently getting underway for the all-volunteer body. SLO County Currently has 19 Grand Jurors.

“A Grand Jury really can make a difference with what they choose to look into,” he said, noting that it is his second term serving on the body.

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