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Capt. Lisa Wicks of the Burleigh County Sheriff's Department shows a bed in a cell of the drunk tank at the Burleigh Morton Detention Center in east Bismarck.

The Bismarck Police Department expended nearly $20,000 for detox services to the county jail from January to September of this year. In the same time frame, the department has received more than 3,250 calls for service related to intoxication, with two officers — costing nearly $160,000 — responding to each call.

These statistics, which were presented by Deputy Police Chief Randy Ziegler at the recent Intoxication Management Community Forum, reflect only a partial year and don’t take into account other local departments, such as Lincoln, Mandan and Burleigh and Morton counties.

“When we’re dealing with detox calls, we’re not doing the stuff the citizens of Bismarck expect from us,” Ziegler said. “When we’re spending so many man-hours dealing with individuals who are under the influence of alcohol and other drugs, we’re not getting a chance to be proactive in our communities, and we’re not getting an opportunity to meet with individuals of our community and do the community policing aspect.”

According to Ziegler, when officers respond to a detox-related call for service, they have two options: release those intoxicated to a friend or family member — which rarely happens — or transport them to a local emergency room, where they are medically cleared to be taken to the jail to sleep it off.

They are not prosecuted because public intoxication is not a crime in the state and they typically stay in jail for eight hours before they’re released back into the community, Ziegler said. Many end up back in jail a short time later.

“There’s great expense to that, whether it’s an officer’s time, whether it’s an emergency room’s time and the resources that have to go into somebody, basically, being able to sleep it off,” Bismarck Mayor Steve Bakken said.

Drafting a plan

A social detox center is being proposed for the Bismarck-Mandan-Lincoln community, and the forum, hosted last month by the Gold Star Community Task Force, was an opportunity for attendees to learn more about the need for such a facility in the area.

Local homeless shelters do not accept individuals under the influence of alcohol or drugs. West Central Human Service Center and The Heartview Foundation are licensed for detox, but are not 24/7 and do not accept drop-ins.

Fargo has a homeless shelter that doubles as a detox facility, as well as a mobile outreach unit, while Grand Forks has a withdrawal management center. Bismarck is comparable in size, yet offers no such services to people in need.

“We are to the point where we want to try and make something happen and maybe move something forward,” said Renae Moch, director of Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health.

A plan is being drafted but many details have yet to be determined, such as where the center will be located or if a new or existing building will be used. A 10- to 12-bed facility is being considered, with 24/7 staffing for client admissions.

Patients will be evaluated and stabilized, with the third step in the detox process being “fostering patient readiness for entering into treatment," according to Moch.

“That’s the other thing we’re looking at — making sure it’s not just someplace to go and sleep it off, but it’s someplace where somebody can go get the help they need and reintegrate back into society,” Bakken said.

Another unknown is funding to establish the center. At least $350,000 is needed to move the project forward, according to Moch, who said, ideally, the project would be a joint undertaking between Bismarck, Mandan and Lincoln, as well as Burleigh and Morton counties.

“It is a community effort. Public Health can try to coordinate and move it forward, but we need the support from community entities to get this off the ground,” she said.

State assistance

State funds may be available for the project, though Bismarck has not yet made a formal request.

“Is it a community investment or a state investment? Decisions like these are a little bit challenging,” said Sen. Erin Oban, D-Bismarck, a member of the Gold Star Community Task Force. “With or without state funds or grants, this deserves due diligence or debate.”

With the North Dakota State Penitentiary being located in Bismarck, Oban said a thought to ponder is whether or not the state facility’s location is connected to the increased need for behavioral and mental health services in the community.

Sen. Dick Dever, R-Bismarck, a member of the Gold Star Community Task Force, said the people of Bismarck, Mandan and Lincoln are “good at stepping up when they see a need” and commended the task force for bringing together all the “right people” to communicate that need and mull solutions.

“The most effective solutions to community issues come from the community itself … If it becomes about money, it will fail. If it is about people, it will succeed,” he said. “A grant from the state could be counterproductive to that effort.”

The Free Through Recovery program, which provides support to inmates released from prison, is a result of the last legislative session.

“It has shown enough success in rebuilding lives that we will expand it this session to move upstream and divert people before they get further in the system,” Dever said.

This legislative session, according to the senator, there will be a bill to certify peer support specialists. Legislators also will consider the needs of public schools throughout the state in dealing with children who suffer from both addiction and mental health issues.

Children who are impacted by the crisis must not be forgotten or left out of the conversation, Oban said.

“When we continue to have these conversations and dialogues, I think it’s important that the kids don’t get missed. We have little ones coming to school every day who come from a tough environment … adolescents dealing with addiction issues,” she said. “How do we get kids this age resources?”

Moving forward

Moch estimates it’ll take at least a year to establish a social detox center within the community.

“If we look at the work that is ahead of us and what we have to do, it’s not something that can happen overnight, obviously,” she said.

Bismarck Police Chief Dave Draovitch says the social detox center can’t come soon enough.

“We’re dealing with sometimes the same people over and over again, and we can literally see them deteriorate. I’ve seen people die because of this problem. We just can’t get them the help,” he said.

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(Reach Cheryl McCormack at 701-250-8264 or cheryl.mccormack@bismarcktribune.com.)​

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General Assignment Reporter