Solutions sought for lack of detox beds in South central Alaska

The Ernie Turner Center in Anchorage. (Credit: Wayde Carroll Photography)
The Ernie Turner Center in Anchorage. (Credit: Wayde Carroll Photography)

More than 60 people seek detox beds in Anchorage every day, but only 14 are available. The director of the Ernie Turner Center, the only detox provider in the area, says it’s a huge problem. A coalition of Anchorage congregations, AFACT, is hosting a town hall meeting Monday night to talk about solutions.

Detox centers provide medical and emotional support for people who are trying to rid their bodies of alcohol or drugs. Cook Inlet Tribal Council Director of Recovery Services Rebecca Ling says going through detox is a painful process that needs short- and long-term support.

“It’s a very difficult process medically but emotionally and physically. I hear from participants detoxing from heroine that it’s physically painful. I’ll watch them pound on their legs with their fist because their bones hurt. They’re sick.”

In 2015, only 450 people detoxed at the Center. Ling says even the 60-person-per-day call log represents only a fraction of the people who need the services.

“I believe that the number 60 sounds like a large number, but I think that it’s pretty low considering the individuals that have just stopped calling. ‘Why call? I don’t get a bed. There’s no space for me.’ And some people don’t even know there is detox in the community.”

When beds do open up, Ling says they try to track down the people who are on the waiting list, but often the individuals are transient or don’t have phones. She says her staff ask people to call the facility every morning to see if a bed will be available. Even with the great need, sometimes beds sit empty because there isn’t a registered nurse available to check people into the facility.

Ling says a lack of funding and a lack of physical space prevent the Center from adding more beds. Community leaders are coming together to discuss the problem Monday night at 7 pm at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church.