Judges, Magistrates Decry El Paso County's Lack of Inpatient Substance Abuse Treatment

By Riley, Rachel | The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO), May 11, 2019 | Go to article overview

Judges, Magistrates Decry El Paso County's Lack of Inpatient Substance Abuse Treatment


Riley, Rachel, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO)


Local magistrates and judges who deal with crime every day are largely in agreement when it comes to one of the underlying causes: El Paso County needs more inpatient treatment beds for those battling substance abuse.

The push for more treatment options was a common theme at a gathering Friday at the Penrose House of the jurists who oversee the 4th Judicial District’s “problem solving courts.”

Those courts are designed to include treatment for mental health and substance abuse in the criminal justice process so that defendants can get the support they need to stay out of trouble.

“We are one of the largest jurisdictions in the state, and we have a very, very small number of beds for inpatient treatment,” said Magistrate Daphne Burlingame, who oversees the 4th Judicial District’s Recovery Court. “That just has to increase for us to be able to do our jobs effectively, and not have to send people to Denver or Pueblo.”

Inpatient treatment is necessary for some participants in the Recovery Court, which serves about 180 felony offenders whose crimes were primarily motivated by their addictions, Burlingame said.

But inpatient rehabs in Colorado Springs only accept private insurance or payment — not Medicaid, the most common form of health insurance among those in Recovery Court, she said.

So the court relies on the finite beds of other facilities along the Front Range that offset treatment costs with funds from the state’s Office of Behavioral Health, she said. Long waiting lists at those centers often leave patients without the high-level care they need for weeks, sometimes months.

The dearth of local beds has become more acute as a national epidemic of opioid use and overdoses has intensified, said Magistrate Jami Vigil, who oversees the Family Treatment Drug Court.

“We have seen a huge shift in that drug of choice,” Vigil told more than 100 people who attended the leadership summit.

She said meth was the drug of choice when she first took over the court’s docket in 2011. But now, more and more people in the program are addicted to heroin or prescription painkillers.

The intense withdrawal symptoms of opioids can make inpatient treatment a near necessity for some addicts, Vigil said.

Family Treatment Drug Court provides treatment and other support services for about 50 families who are involved in child welfare cases opened by the Department of Human Services. The program ensures that there’s always one sober caregiver, allowing children to stay in their homes instead of being placed with a foster family or relative. …

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