LA County's Skid Row To Open 'Sobering Center' In The Fall

By Keri Blakinger 03/28/16

The new sobering center could help as many as 8,000 serially intoxicated patients a year.

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LA County's Skid Row To Open 'Sobering Center' In The Fall
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Los Angeles County just approved plans to open a “sobering center” on skid row, according to the Los Angeles Times

The hope is that now, intoxicated individuals will have some place to go—other than jail or a hospital. There are already similar centers in Portland and San Antonio, but this will be the first in the area of the City of Angels. In the fall, once the center opens, emergency workers will have a place to take dangerously drunk people before they get themselves arrested or require a trip to the ER. 

The center will be manned by a nurse practitioner, clinicians and substance abuse counselors—but it will be for short-term stays, typically between 8 and 23 hours. As they sober up and leave, patients will be given referrals for treatment programs and housing. 

Although it’ll cost around $2 million to launch the new center and $3.4 million a year to keep it open, it might actually save money in the long-run.

Right now, there are some individuals—dubbed “serial inebriates” by Marc Eckstein, the Los Angeles Fire Department’s medical director—who might require multiple ER trips in a single day. There are others who go back and forth between the medical center and the streets 50 times a year, according to the officials who proposed the measure. Both of those options are quite costly.

“We're spending a lot of money, tying up scarce resources, and it's really not benefiting anybody very much,” Eckstein said. “There's no good alternative right now, so this sobering center fills a huge void.”

Currently, there are also urgent care psychiatric centers, but they are equipped to handle those dealing with emergency mental health crises, not individuals who are highly intoxicated.

Even with the sobering center in place, serious cases may still require a trip to the ER, but now first responders will have another option for people who are just drunk enough to possibly endanger themselves but not in a position to need emergency medical help. In many cases, though, the sobering center may divert patients from more expensive medical options. 

The new center could serve as many as 8,000 patients a year, and around 40 to 50 at any given time.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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