Without Treatment Facility In Payson, Drug Addicts Struggle To Recover


"Double D" knew he had to sober up when he tried to jump in front of a train.

And even though he'd realized his drug and alcohol problem was out of control, he couldn't stop -- not until it drove him to pursue his own death.


Who to contact:
Alcoholics Anonymous: (928) 474-3620
Narcotics Anonymous: (928) 978-1603
Steps House: (928) 468-6368
Calvary Chapel: (928) 468-0801

"I lived the better part of my life as an active addict," said Double D, who asked that his real name not be used to protect his identity. He has now been sober for more than two years. "I was not just addicted to meth, but to other substances as well, all of which were just as dangerous in their own way. Each one held a different grip on my life."

But when it came time to look for help, there wasn't any available in Payson. Since getting his life back together, Double D has joined an increasing number of recovering addicts and alcoholics, mental health professionals, law enforcement agencies and other members of the community advocating for a detoxification facility in Payson.

"We are in desperate need up here," said Nanci Stone, a 25-year mental health veteran and director of adult services for Rim Guidance. "The big issue is finding a place and getting the funding."

Over the past few decades, substance abuse in the Southwest has outpaced other parts of the country. According to the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, in 2004, Arizona was among the top nine states for abuse of alcohol or illicit drugs, and in the top 10 for frequency of mental illness.

The latest statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that Arizonans rank among the top four states for persons needing, but not receiving treatment for an alcohol problem and an illicit drug problem.

Addicts in Payson are feeling the impact of the statewide substance abuse. Double D said patients in Arizona's urban areas collect on waiting lists, sometimes up to a week -- residents from Payson compete for this space as well.

That's what happened to Double D.

"I knew I needed to quit," he said. "That, with mental illness, got me into a psych unit. They don't have psych units in Payson."

Psychiatric units, located in some hospitals around the state, provide a safety net. That's where Double D detoxified his body -- in a psych unit in the Valley.

"It's a safety net so I couldn't abuse myself anymore or commit suicide," he said. "It's somewhere to go when you're in crisis."

The detox phase of beating an addiction can cause emotional and physical crisis. People die in prisons and on the streets from its symptoms.

Detoxification or detox is the process of allowing the body to rid itself of drugs or alcohol while managing the symptoms. Patients in northern Gila County who need to detox -- whether they've landed in jail or the emergency room, or voluntarily seek treatment -- must travel to the Valley. Without sufficient care, detox can elicit physical injury, seizures, delirium tremens (DTs) or death.

"A lot of (people) don't realize the dangerous nature of the withdrawals," said Lee Sears, owner of the sober-living environment Steps House in Payson.

Sears knows the situation all too well. He nearly died during withdrawal when he sobered up 20 years ago.

But detox is a small part of the entire recovery process. After the chemicals are gone, drug treatment or "rehab" begins.

In the past, the old treatment standard averaged 28 days, but now, depending on the severity of the substance abuse, criminal activity and financial situation of the patient, treatment can last as long as a year.

"You don't just send someone to detox and put them back in the community," Stone said.

Treatment focuses on therapy, skills and life choices -- it's where community, therapeutic, family and spiritual support take over.

Real life detox

Stan (name changed to protect his identity) can't detox even if that's what he wanted. He's a daily drinker, but could jeopardize his life if he quit alone.

With no money or transportation, and a lack of local facilities, he struggles to sober up.

"They should have a detox and rehab up here," Stan said. "I'd like to see my kids on a regular basis, and if I'm down there, that's not happening. It's my moral support."

Stan's story isn't unlike the experience of other alcoholics.

Stan started partying in his teens. He switched from beer to Jack Daniels to vodka. Unable to work because of an injury, he drinks to fill his time. As the years passed, the alcohol stopped working and turned against him.

To soothe the morning shakes, he heads to the store at 6 a.m. To pay for his alcohol, he borrows money or pawns his belongings.

His latest troubles began in the spring when Payson police arrested him for disorderly conduct.

Judge Peter Cahill said in adult cases, the court doesn't get directly involved in intervention. Treatment filters through the probation department and Rim Guidance Center.

The court has ordered him into treatment, but without money or a local facility, Stan said he's hanging on by a thread.

"I'm not a bad guy," he said. "This whole thing is turning into a nightmare."

Community support

Without a doubt, Stone said, the drug and alcohol problem in Payson has increased with the population. When she started with Rim Guidance in 2004, the center saw 740 clients. In two years, that number has climbed to 1,100.

But without community and political support, the reality of a local detox center is slim, and past attempts have failed. Sears was involved in one of those efforts back in the late 1990s. A plan to include a detox facility at Payson Regional Medical Center lost momentum after the hospital changed ownership and municipal support flagged.

Current legislation is under way to secure funding in rural communities. If passed, the law will loosen up money to develop detox facilities in areas with populations of fewer than 50,000 people and adjacent to a Native American reservation.

Cenpatico Behavioral Health of Arizona, the organization that operates Rim Guidance Center, is also in the process of obtaining money from the state, specifically from the Arizona Department of Health Services. The grant could provide the seed money for a local detox center.

Convincing Payson to build a drug treatment facility has been difficult, advocates say, partly because of the cost.

A detox facility could cost more than $1 million because it requires 24-hour, seven-day-a-week staffing. The personnel costs alone for trained specialists -- psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, counselors -- is overwhelming.

To get involved in the local effort, contact Rep. Rick Renzi, Arizona's congressional advocate for rural community health issues at (202) 225-2315, or Arizona Behavioral Health Services at (602) 364-4558.

If you or a loved one needs support, there is help in the community. Calvary Chapel offers a faith-based, sober-living facility. Pastor Joe Hittle said the church accepts men only after they've detoxed.

The Steps House also welcomes addicts and alcoholics -- men and women -- into its residential 90-day center, usually after detox.

Housing is $95 a week, and the Steps House requires its residents to work, stick to a curfew and attend 12-step meetings.

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