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Utah Detoxes Lose Patients Over Smoking Ban

Many detox patients drop out prematurely as the state transitions to tobacco-free treatment centers.

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By Chrisanne Grise

07/19/12

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As if getting clean wasn’t tough enough already, recovery patients in Utah will soon not be allowed to smoke cigarettes in rehab. The state’s Recovery Plus initiative will require all substance abuse and mental health treatment facilities that receive public funding to be tobacco-free by next March. Some centers, like adult detoxification center Volunteers of America (VOA), have implemented the ban ahead of schedule, and they are finding a significant number of clients are having a more difficult time completing the program. "The cigarette thing almost made me walk out," says Dusti Benavidez, a patient at VOA. “I understand we have to climb a mountain to get clean. Can we climb one mountain at a time?" Patients who smoke prior to admittance are provided with nicotine replacement therapy and education. Even still, the impact of the ban will be felt by a significant amount of people; about 66% of those in substance abuse programs are smokers, according to Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. Many clients have already left the detox prematurely, and therefore not receiving assessments for admission to treatment programs, according to VOA residential service director Andrew Johnston. “We’re waiting to see if our numbers rebound to previous levels,” he says. If the number of clients continues to drop, the center may ask the state to waive the ban.

Despite the struggle, research shows that kicking the habit during detox may be worth it, as people who give up smoking during treatment have a 25% better chance of long-term abstinence from alcohol and drugs. Treatment providers are especially eager to promote health and wellness in the state, as Utah clients with mental illness and/or substance abuse issues tend to have a life span that’s 29 years shorter than the general population. “We have a responsibility to view ourselves as health care providers," says Rick Hendy, program administrator of adult mental health for the state Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. Utah clinics are not the only place to enforce smoking bans; a Texas rehab center voluntarily kicked out tobacco just a few months ago, and New York and New Jersey have made all rehab facilities entirely smoke-free.

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