With Intoxicated Detainments on the Rise, a Possible Solution Is in Sight
TELLURIDE – Dangerously intoxicated people are a given in a resort town. In Telluride, with the nearest detox center over 120 mountainous miles away in Grand Junction, when an intoxicated individual becomes a danger to himself or others, the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office provides medical attention in a facility – often the county jail – where a drunken person can sober up.
The number of intoxicated people booked at the San Miguel County Jail in Ilium is rising, with 32 cases in 2013, according to Masters. The way the county currently handles these cases is subpar, San Miguel County Sheriff Masters believes, and must be fixed to minimize his and the county’s liability before a drunken person in custody hurts himself, or worse.
Last week, at an intergovernmental meeting, Masters proposed that a detox center be created in San Miguel County, possibly in a new Telluride Medical Clinic, if one is built following this month’s election in which Telluride voters approved allowing a portion of the Pearl Property to be used for that purpose. The cost to the county, he said, could be around $200,000.
Colorado State law stipulates that when a law enforcement official suspects a person of being intoxicated to the point of posing a danger to himself or others, the officer shall take the individual into protective custody and place him or her in an “approved treatment facility.” In lieu of a purpose-built detox center, the law states that individuals may be detained in a jail or medical center.
The Telluride Medical Center cannot take these patients, Masters said, because it is not an adequate facility to detain someone until they become sober.
“The medical center will not take these patients,” Masters said. “They don’t have the facility to take them, so a person might initially end up there. But then they might have to go to a different location because they don’t have anyone else to watch them. Sometimes it takes patients 20 hours until they are sober enough to be released.”
With the medical center not an option, the county jail is the only realistic place in which to contain these individuals, he added.
“Right now, the county has a ‘drunk tank’,” Masters said. “In essence, it’s a jail cell in Ilium where these patients rest and sober up until we release them.”
Persons brought to the jail in Ilium to detox are cleared by the medical clinic or EMTs before they’re detained. Once the person is in jail, an EMT is hired to watch them carefully during the entire detox time, anywhere from between eight to 20 hours. The fee for the EMT is then billed to the agency that brought the intoxicated person in.
“We’re grateful we have the EMTs to call, but they cost the county $300 per eight-hour shift,” Masters said. “And if [the drunk person’s] condition worsens while they’re in the jail and they need medical attention, we need to call for help from the Fire District's EMS Division and wait for the ambulance to drive across roads, which, in the winter, take a long time to drive on and is dangerous.”
“Alcoholics often have seizures, so seconds really do count,” Masters added. “It’s just a matter of time until someone becomes seriously injured, or worse.”
If someone is picked up for being too intoxicated, they are not arrested under Colorado State law, and law enforcement officers are personally liable for the patient’s safety. It is only a matter of time, said Masters, until a patient will cause injury to himself or herself, or worse, die on Masters’ watch. At that point, Masters or the law enforcement official is liable.
Masters said that a solution could be found if a new medical center is constructed on the upland portion of the Pearl Property. The county could have the opportunity to include a purpose-built containment facility in the clinic, where intoxicated people can detox with medical staff on hand.