Drug and Alcohol Detox Center Closes Its Doors on Alaska's Primary Drug and Alcohol Abusers

Drug and Alcohol Detox Center Closes Its Doors on Alaska's Primary Drug and Alcohol Abusers

Alaska’s primary drug and alcohol detox center, part of the Salvation Army's Clitheroe Center in Anchorage, has closed due to lack of public funding. The loss to the local and statewide community is tragic, considering that Alaska has the highest percentage in the USA of people needing but not receiving treatment for substance abuse and dependence problems. And when one compares the cost of keeping the center open to the costs to the state of drug and alcohol abuse – $738 million in 2003 – it seems plainly short-sighted to sacrifice a drug and alcohol detox center.

Clitheroe Center is Alaska’s largest comprehensive substance abuse treatment facility. Because of a shortage of state funding over the past 14 years, Clitheroe’s drug and alcohol detox unit has shrunk from 20 beds, to 12, to eight – and now has reached zero. The center’s drug rehab and other services, operating in the community for 30 years, will continue to be available. The closure only affects the vital drug and alcohol detox center, which treats emergency and other tough cases for which no alternatives exist.

“We could not staff it any longer with nurses,” said Major Doug Tollerud of the Salvation Army. “The nursing shortage that has hit the nation has also hit Alaska and has also hit the Anchorage community.” Tollerud says the state was giving the Salvation Army $870,000 every year – but the detox program costs more than a million dollars to run.

Dr. Marc Pellicciaro of Providence Hospital ER says a lot more people will be walking through their emergency room doors now that the doors to Clitheroe's detox program are closed. “We'll have to do some of the work in the emergency room ourselves, and then the rest of the community is going to have to take care of these folks as well,” he said.

In 2004-2005, Alaska was among the top eight states for illicit drug dependence, and had the highest percentage in the nation of people aged 12 and older needing, but not receiving, treatment for illicit drug use, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

But that’s nothing compared to its alcohol problem. Alcohol has long been recognized as the state’s number one behavioral health problem. Alcohol abuse and dependence in the state is at 14%, twice the national average. Back in 2002, there were 1,109 traffic crashes in Alaska attributed to alcohol and other drugs, and the estimated costs from these crashes were more than $35 million for legal costs, property damage, workplace costs and insurance. The cost of adult and child protective services attributed to alcohol and other drug abuse is estimated at $59 million. These costs include foster care services, adoption care services, residential care services, and social worker services.

It’s well accepted that detox programs are a potent tool in helping return alcohol and drug abusers to a life of sobriety. With the country’s worst alcohol abuse and near-worst drug abuse problems, Alaska’s inability to find funding for the Clitheroe Center is totally at odds with the need in the state for drug and alcohol detox.

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