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Lawmaker: Closing Detox Center Will Keep Kids Out Of Treatment

New Mexico Department of Health
Beds at Turquoise Lodge Hospital, which houses the soon-to-be-closed youth detox facility

Lawmakers are trying to stop the planned closure of a youth detox center in Albuquerque. The Turquoise Lodge detox service was funded by the state three years ago, but now the Department of Health says not enough kids are using it and the money needs to be redirected to services for adults.

Public Health New Mexico's Ed Williams spoke with Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino, who says shutting down the 20-bed detox center is especially problematic because kids have to first go through detox before they can access other treatment programs.

Ortiz y Pino: They could detoxify there, they stay there for 30 days and then they move on to some other programs where they could actually get counseling, they could get support for understanding what actually created this problem within them in the first place. That was the model, and now they’re closing it down, which means those six or eight other treatment programs in the state are essentially being cut off from the only supply of referrals that they could dependably have.

KUNM: Lawmakers are planning to send a letter this week to the department of health to ask that they delay the closure of Turquoise Lodge until September. What would that accomplish? 

Ortiz Y Pino: We’re going to have a full-blown hearing in Taos on this issue in September and we’ve invited the Department of Health to come to that. The hope is that if it’s too expensive to operate a 20-bed facility, then scale it back. We’re not saying be irresponsible with the state’s budget, but we are saying that if there are five or seven kids in the program at any given time, that’s five or seven kids you’re kicking out onto the street without any other sufficient planning for them. And we can’t afford that, we can’t afford to toss away five or seven lives every two months. 

KUNM: But the Department of Health is saying that, like you mentioned, this is an underutilized facility. So how is keeping an underused facility open a responsible use of resources?

Ortiz y Pino: There are three things basically there. One is, it is a portal to all the other treatments. If you cut this one down because you’re saying it’s not being utilized enough, you’re saying that at five or seven kids a month—because it’s a 30-day program—there are 60 or 70 kids a year that are using the program and getting out of heroin addiction.  Second thing is, it’s pretty clear from testimony that we heard last Friday that they’re not really marketing this program very well. They’re not letting the potential referral sources—the children’s courts, the probation officers, the school counselors—know about the availability of this program. A lot of them have said that they tried to make a referral and they were told it would take 60 days to get in. You can’t do that to a kid, if he’s ready to get in now, you’ve got to take him now.

KUNM: DOH is saying that they’re standing by their decision to close the facility. So if that happens, if it does get shut down, then what?

ORTIZ Y PINO: Well, we’ve also raised one other question about this, and that is that they’re using money that was specifically appropriated for an adolescent detox program. It’s not usual that a state agency would say, 'you know, you gave us this money for day care but we’re going to use if for homemaker services or after school programs or something very different' without coming to the legislature and getting it re-appropriated for a new purpose. So we’re raising that question. Legally I think there are some questions that would have to be cleared up before they could say ‘we’re not going to use it for what you gave us the money for, instead we’re going to use it for adults.’

In a statement,  Department of Health spokesman Kenny Vigil said closing the detox center was a tough decision to make, but that the state is standing by it. You can find that statement here


KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Con Alma Health Foundation and the McCune Charitable Foundation. Find out more at publichealthnm.org.

Ed Williams came to KUNM in 2014 by way of Carbondale, Colorado, where he worked as a public radio reporter covering environmental issues. Originally from Austin, Texas, Ed has reported on environmental, social justice, immigration and Native American issues in the U.S. and Latin America for the Austin American-Statesman, Z Magazine, NPR’s Latino USA and others. In his spare time, look for Ed riding his mountain bike in the Sandias or sparring on the jiu-jitsu mat.
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