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New social detox center opens downtown

Grand Forks City Council member Bret Weber remembers a police ride-along he went on in mid-autumn 2015. At the request of an apartment building's landlord, the officer picked up an unruly intoxicated woman who had been involved in a domestic viol...

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Curtis Scanson, project coordinator of the detox center shows one of the rooms in the downtown Grand Forks facility. (Joshua Komer / Grand Forks Herald)

Grand Forks City Council member Bret Weber remembers a police ride-along he went on in mid-autumn 2015.

At the request of an apartment building's landlord, the officer picked up an unruly intoxicated woman who had been involved in a domestic violence situation. But he faced a dilemma of where to take her: Because of the woman's intoxication, she couldn't stay at the Northlands Rescue Mission. She hadn't committed a crime, so it didn't make sense to take her to jail. She didn't have an immediate medical emergency, so she couldn't go to the emergency room either.

The police had no choice. At about 2 a.m., officers put the woman out on the streets, into the biting October chill with a few of her belongings in a plastic grocery bag, to come down from her intoxication.

Weber described the process of dealing with her and the ultimate decision as inhumane, inefficient and expensive.

But now, a new 10-bed social detox facility in downtown Grand Forks provides a solution to situations such as hers. The incident exemplifies everything the center aims to solve: provide a safe place for individuals who need to come off of alcohol or drugs, but do not need hospitalization and have not committed any crimes.

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"It cost a lot of money to set this up, but I think that everybody feels that both for social consciousness reasons as well as financial reasons, this will save money in the long run," said Meredith Richards, the deputy director of community development for Grand Forks.

Curtis Scanson, the facility's project coordinator, said it also aims to remove the perceived shame of taking the first step in seeking treatment for substance abuse.

"There won't be any stigma for people coming in," he said. "Hopefully that will reduce people's fear of wanting to come in and get help."

"Too long we've considered addiction a moral failing, and we have to really recognize that it's a disease," said Debbie Swanson, director of the Public Health Department. "It deserves the same kind of care as any other disease that people have."

In addition to beds, the detox center has showers, a laundry room and clean clothes for clients to change into, a small kitchen and connections to other resources for substance abuse treatment.

Working together

Several community organizations in the Grand Forks area have collaborated for years to make the social detox center a reality, including the Northeast Human Services Center, the Department of Public Health, Altru Health System, UND, the City of Grand Forks and police, fire and the sheriff's departments. The organizations' leaders say the need and desire for a social detox center has existed for decades.

"Because our community has been so long without this service, I think people are staying really committed to make sure that it's successful," Swanson said.

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The center will serve Grand Forks, Pembina, Nelson and Walsh Counties. Scanson estimated its operating costs at $300,000 per year and all its funding comes from public sources, including Northeast Human Services, the city and county of Grand Forks, Altru, UND and various grants.

The Public Health Department leads the responsibilities of operating it. Scanson pointed to the difficulty of finding private businesses to operate or fund the detox center because it is not expected to generate revenue.

An advisory committee for the center has been formed. A reflection of the facility operations' collaborative nature, the committee comprises members from an array of the city and county's health, law enforcement and government organizations, as well as UND. Swanson, Scanson, Richards and Weber all serve on the committee.

"It was created as a group of people who were either impacted by the issue through their agencies or they had a strong interest in improving the situation in the community," Swanson said. "That's the beauty of coalition and advisory work, is that we get fresh perspectives."

Swanson said the detox center will impact the Grand Forks community beyond just the individuals who use it.

"I think there are very few of us that can say that addiction hasn't touched them personally, and so when I saw that there was a gap ... the Health Department stepped up to (fill) it."

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