Santa Clara County expands detox beds to tackle drug crisis
Supervisor Susan Ellenberg gathered local health providers and partners to discuss a new strategy for adding detox beds, a pilot therapy program and streamlined steps to recovery for people seeking substance use recovery. Photo by Natalie Hanson.

Santa Clara County has unveiled a three-step strategy to change how county officials and medical providers connect people to treatment for substance use disorders.

County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg on Tuesday announced that up to 15 beds will be opened for people in detoxification centers, to serve another 700 people each year. No new detox centers were proposed.

The county will also partner with the state to develop a pilot therapy program for treating methamphetamine addictions and streamline the process connecting patients to residential treatment programs through the Valley Homeless Health Care program.

This approach comes as the county tackles a declared substance use disorder crisis.

Supervisor Cindy Chavez said increasing detox bed capacity is critical to helping more people get treated in time.

Chavez said San Jose has the second largest influx of methamphetamine and fentanyl in California. “In the last year, law enforcement has seen street meth consistently laced with fentanyl which is causing many problems and even death,” she said.

In a recent interview with San José Spotlight, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Stephen V. Manley agreed that increasing detox center capacity along with a comprehensive treatment plan is key to engaging individuals in treatment. He said the county is seeing a “steady increase in the number of individuals who are being arrested, and ending up in jail, charged with offenses in the criminal justice system, than in previous years.”

Manley said as the state implements CalAIM — a long-term plan to transform and strengthen Medi-Cal to provide mental health services, sobriety centers and supportive jail release services — he hopes the program enhances managed care to keep clients connected to a recovery program. He said the county should be moving people into treatment and diverting people from the criminal justice system.

“One of the great challenges is to get people to navigate this system, so confusing to people who are mentally ill,” said Manley, who is one of the first judges in the nation to pioneer a Behavioral Health Court system that diverts individuals into treatment.

Gary Montrezza, Chief Executive Officer of the nonprofit Pathway Society, encouraged understanding of socioeconomic factors behind why more people have been found to be suffering from substance use disorders in Santa Clara County. Photo by Natalie Hanson.

Adding detox beds

Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith said the new plan should help a person start to detox for four to five days, then enter treatment for the next 30 days before moving into outpatient recovery.

He said the board will publicly discuss the funding plan and sources for the program in June.

Gary Montrezza, CEO of the nonprofit Pathway Society, which offers substance abuse and counseling services, said this plan is critical to increasing clients’ chances of accessing services. The system will incentivize clients who reach out for help.

Dr. Mudit Gilotra of the Valley Homeless Health Care Program said the county’s most recent homeless count in 2019 found that 35% of people experiencing homelessness reported a substance use issue. He said the real number is likely closer to 70%.

“With more fentanyl hitting the streets, accidental overdose deaths are on the rise,” he said.

Due to fentanyl often being mixed many times into different substances, Gilotra said the risk of an accidental overdose is much higher.

Gilotra said it is urgent to treat patients while they are willing to recover from substance use.

“When one of my patients is ready to quit that substance and move toward sobriety, I know the stakes are life or death, and the window of opportunity is small and fleeting,” he said.

Alan “Gumby” Marques, president of the San Jose Downtown Association board of directors, has been critical of how the county is dealing with homelessness and addiction in the city’s urban core.

“It’s also part of an obviously bigger, wider problem that doesn’t have any one quick, easy solution,” he said. “What about the folks that are out there that clearly need help, that don’t want to get help? We all have a right to walk about our streets and feel safe.”

Ellenberg said she wants to see the county tackle the issue with treatment instead of punishment — and wants to see law enforcement direct people into services and away from jail.

“These are afflictions that impact the entire population,” Ellenberg said. “We are all susceptible, so we all need to take care of ourselves and each other.”

Reporter Eli Wolfe contributed to this report.

Contact Natalie Hanson at [email protected] or @nhanson_reports on Twitter. 

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