Unique Sacramento detox-treatment center eyes one-year renewal

The Comprehensive Alcohol Treatment Center helped more than 1,200 people last year

Sacramento city officials were poised Tuesday to quietly re-up their stake in a program that tries to propel alcoholics toward sobriety, not jail.

The Comprehensive Alcohol Treatment Center, run by Volunteers of America Northern California & Northern Nevada Inc. on Fifth Street just north of downtown, has existed in one incarnation or another for about 35 years, said president and CEO Leo J. McFarland.

Inebriates are either referred or court-ordered to the treatment center to undergo medically supervised detox and other recovery services that can last 72 hours or 90 days, depending on the severity of the need.

A statistical summary prepared by the city indicates that the center’s 80 detox beds are almost always full. Last year, a total of 1,262 people detoxed at the facility, some of them more than once. More than 600 people agreed to their 72-hour holds being extended.

In all, staff performed some 9,965 intakes during 2013.

Nearly 86 percent of the clientele was male, while the average age for all participants was just over 45. Most experienced homelessness.

Of those who went through the detox program, almost 27 percent were released to their homes or other housing programs, while roughly 21 percent transferred to treatment programs or medical facilities, a city staff report states. Zero participants were released to homeless shelters.

The center also houses a 90-day Serial Inebriate Program for chronic substance abusers who have been jailed or detoxed at the center at least 25 times within a single year. The program served seven homeless people last year, and referred them to Sacramento Self-Help Housing upon release, McFarland said.

It’s difficult to quantify the program’s effectiveness through the figures provided. Anecdotally, Sacramento police and business representatives reported a “significant decrease” in nuisance behavior and the number of inebriates on downtown streets, the staff report states.

Before the center’s existence, McFarland said local law enforcement averaged some 26,000 arrests each year for public drunkenness. Today, the center gets three or four referrals a day. “The new normal is something far different than the old normal,” he said.

Sacramento police arrested 976 people in the central city last year for being drunk in public, said Officer Justin Brown. That’s 7 percent more than they did in 2006, one year before the current funding partnership between the city, county and Sacramento Housing Redevelopment Agency, according to Vincene Jones, the city’s neighborhood services division manager.

Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Sgt. Lisa R. Bowman said many factors can contribute to the flux in jail bookings for public drunkenness, including changes to the law and whether detox beds are available.

The Sacramento City Council was expected to approve the city’s and SHRA’s share of the $1.27 million treatment center, which tops out at $708,351. The current agreement will keep the center running through June 2015, when its contract will be reconsidered.