There’s hope in a quiet corner of Lynnwood. It’s a new, 16-bed detox facility that’s ready to accept its first patient any day now.
If demand due to the opioid crisis is any indication, the beds will be filled right away.
The Evergreen Recovery Center is near Scriber Lake, tucked away in a residential neighborhood. It will be the sister center to the Everett Evergreen Recovery Center. Combined, they’ll offer 32 beds serving five counties for people addicted to alcohol, heroin and other opioids, methadone, methamphetamine, and benzodiazepines.
Scott Johnson, a registered nurse and the director of Detox Services at the Lynnwood location, says this is a positive step, but that it brings us nowhere near the number of addiction services the region needs.
“In my perfect world? When someone picks up the phone and decides, ‘OK, I’m ready to change my life,’ and calls us, we would be able to get them into a detox center, get them detoxed, send them straight to a treatment center afterwards, and then also on top of that treatment center have the appropriate resources and things set up for when they get out of that treatment center,” Johnson said.
But why only 16 beds per facility?
That’s due to a Medicaid rule from the 1960s that was an attempt to discourage what the law called “institutions for mental disease” (we might call that “warehousing” today). It was an attempt to promote smaller, community-based mental health centers much like the Evergreen Recovery Center. Nobody could have predicted in the 60s the modern-day opioid, but the rule still dictates the rate at which we can treat addiction.
For a place like the Evergreen Recovery Center, where 98 percent of its patients are using some form of Medicaid, they have to stick to the rules if they want to help the most people while also getting paid.
But even if the funding was there the problem still exists that neighborhoods aren’t likely to accept a detox center in their backyard with open arms. The Lynnwood location took more than four years to complete in large part because of the stigma around addiction.
“Sixty to seventy percent of our patients are addicted to heroin. It’s not the picture that you have in your head,” Johnson said. “It’s younger people. The average age of our patients is probably low 20s to mid to upper 30s.”
The detox program is also tightly controlled at Evergreen Recovery Center. The medically-assisted process takes five to six days depending on the person and substance. A patient has to call ahead, arrange a ride to the facility, is kept at the facility — no wandering the streets as some neighbors fear — and when the process is over the patient arranges a ride to wherever they’re going next.
Johnson says starting about a year ago, homeowners in the area started coming to him asking questions and says once they take a tour of the facility and get answers most are okay with the detox center being in their neighborhood.
Zachary, who is across the street from the detox center, remains skeptical. However, he admits he hasn’t approached Evergreen Recovery Center for more information or for a tour.
“I wasn’t really a fan of it because who wants drug addicts across the street from your house. It’s a scary thought being that my house could get broken into,” he said.
As it turns out, Zachary’s stance might be in the minority. Other neighbors I spoke to either didn’t know enough to talk about it or were ardently for it. And Johnson has noticed the shift in attitudes around addiction.
“I’m only speculating, but it’s been extremely helpful to have the media putting stories out there about people that have this disease. I think I would be hard pressed to go talk to anybody in the community and have them not have some sort of connection with this disease,” Johnson said.
A couple doors down from Zachary, Jean had no idea the detox center was in her neighborhood but lit up at the news because her son is in recovery.
“Hopefully that with something like that in our community it will help and not be a hindrance. I don’t know if this drug problem is ever going to go away. So sad, you know, with the knowledge and stuff that we have about it today you’d think we’d have a lot less trouble with it, but we sure don’t,” Jean said.
Across the street from Jean is another family touched by addiction – a mother who says she supports the detox center being in her neighborhood because her daughter is addicted to Percocet. The daughter has been through treatment but still hasn’t overcome her addiction.
That’s a common story. It can take a few times through a treatment program. Johnson, who will run the new detox center, knows that because he is also in recovery.
“I’m not going to be the one to give up hope on these people, you know, the people that come in and need our services? Everyone else has given up hope on them. And that’s where we can be light. And, in fact, when they fill out patient surveys that’s one of the things they say when they leave here is that ‘I was treated like a person’,” Johnson said.