To get clean

Skyway House unveils new detox service for drug addiction

Jennifer Carvalho, CEO of Skyway HouseRecovery, says the North State has been overdue for a detox center.

Jennifer Carvalho, CEO of Skyway HouseRecovery, says the North State has been overdue for a detox center.


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After mustering the will to seek life-changing treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, many Butte County residents have had that decision derailed by a catch-22. Residential programs admit participants only after 24 hours of sobriety but, in their struggle with substances, addicted people often can’t get sober at all—not even for a day—without a program.

What they need, and what’s been missing in the North State, is a detoxification center: a facility where alcoholics and other addicts can live clean for several days until they’re set to enter recovery.

Until recently, locals had to drive about an hour for a supervised detox; apart from one bed in Yuba City, the facilities north of Sacramento haven’t provided medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to ease withdrawal.

That changed April 19, when Skyway House Recovery unveiled the service in Chico.

Skyway House, which runs both inpatient and outpatient recovery programs, added MAT detox to the offerings at its larger group home. That facility—called Shasta Retreat, located in a converted school—accommodates up to 22 adults and allows those planning to enter residential recovery there to do so seamlessly.

Jennifer Carvalho, CEO of Skyway House, says the need is great. Detox has gotten thrust on hospital doctors and private physicians when people don’t go out of county.

“There’s been a lot of community conversation about it being the missing piece to people getting into—and staying in—recovery,” Carvalho told the CN&R during a visit to the site. “Our licensure for residential treatment doesn’t allow for someone to come in until they have 24 hours clean, drug-free. The idea of an addict getting 24 hours clean before they come to treatment is somewhat ludicrous—if they could get clean … they wouldn’t need our services.

“By becoming licensed for detox, we’re then able to take a client right when they’re ready for treatment, when they’re ready to seek our services. Essentially, every client that comes to us needs detox; what we were having to do was send them away.”

Skyway House went from a nonprofit to a for-profit provider last year, under Tennessee-based Acadia Healthcare. Both Carvalho and Ed Sprague, director of clinical services, credit the support of the new parent organization—both financially and clinically—with turning a longtime wish into reality. Skyway House had detox eight years ago, but just briefly.

“I think the need for it has really increased with the influx of all the opiates that are being used a lot,” Sprague said. “With opiates there’s going to be a withdrawal; we’re seeing a lot more of that.

“There’s just a brief window to help the people who come to us. The need has always been there. It’s just grown larger.”

The detox takes place amid the residential recovery at Shasta Retreat. The complex features three shared bedroom/bathroom units, two common areas, a private counseling office in the basement and a spacious backyard where playground equipment serves as a reminder of the property’s schoolhouse roots. (It’s also a highlight during family visits.)

Shasta House’s front door is locked from the outside, but not from the inside. Participants aren’t prisoners—their programs are voluntary—but they can’t come and go.

“It’s not a revolving door,” Carvalho said.

Likewise, in the current model for detox, participants stay in-house. They either segue into treatment at Shasta or head over to Serenity, the smaller facility with private and semi-private rooms.

Skyway House’s detox is not a “standalone” feeding into other programs; although Carvalho says she can “foresee a future for that level of service at some point, it’s not right now.”

People entering detox first receive an examination to gauge their physical condition. If someone is likely to experience severe withdrawal, hospitalization may come before detox. Otherwise, a physician may prescribe medicine to alleviate symptoms, which the on-site nursing staff administers.

This medication assistance (MAT) and medical supervision distinguishes Skyway House. So, too, does the integration of people at different stages of recovery.

“A lot of times there’s a comfort level [in this detox environment] where they can have peer support from somebody who just went through the same thing,” Sprague said. “That means a lot to them, when they see somebody who was here just three or four days ago—and the person who’s reaching out and helping that peer, it’s beneficial for them, too.”

Being able to offer what Carvalho calls “the full continuum of care” is important to keep people from getting sidetracked or falling through the cracks. Getting turned away, or having to head elsewhere for detox, can change the mind of a conflicted person who just barely decided to seek help.

“You send them somewhere else and you lose them,” Sprague said.

Moreover, he added, “the detox isn’t as much the treatment as getting prepared for treatment. They feel better and maybe they don’t get back to treatment, and that really doesn’t increase their chance for success.”

Success matters when failure is, Carvalho says, “jails, institutions or death.”

That’s why she is particularly passionate about the work at Skyway House, which she first encountered in 1999 when she sought treatment herself.

“I was anonymous in my recovery for many years,” she said, “because I didn’t want business associates to know about my recovery—which is funny, because I didn’t mind them knowing about my alcoholism—but when I came to Skyway House, it was really clear to me that somebody had to tell the tale that addicts recover; we become productive members of society.

“I was given my life back at Skyway House,” she added, emotions welling, “and I will do whatever it takes for the next addict seeking recovery.”