Mixed results for Operation Rio Grande’s impact on addiction

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (News4Utah) – It’s been a year since Operation Rio Grande got underway to crack down on crime while using new methods to fight homelessness and addiction. While extra funds have given more people access to rehab, it’s also created a waiting list for people needing help with addiction.

Carl Henry is one of the addicts that benefited from the expansion of drug court which allowed addicted to choose treatment over jail.

“I was going back and forth with pills and heroin,” said Henry.

Henry had been an addict for 15 years and was staying at a motel on North Temple when the operation got underway. It was a near death experience with heroin in October of 2016, and a talk from his brother which pushed him to change.

“Carl you’re dead you’re just waiting to lay down, he’s like you have to make a move now,” said Henry.

Carl saw extra police in front of his motel as a part of the operation and decided to turn himself in. Hoping a few years in jail would sober him up. Instead, he found out drug court was available and chose Odyssey House for treatment.

Christina Zidow is the COO of Odyssey House and notes the option for those being arrested has been a game changer.

“We’ve found our greatest success out of that,” said Zidow. “People who felt like they had a choice as opposed to being forced one way or another.”

Treatment centers have faced a new challenge of capacity as new funding became available for patients.

“It went from a funding capacity issue to a bed capacity issue,” said Zidow. “That’s about having enough buildings with enough beds, and having enough mental health professionals to serve the people.”

The waiting list at Odyssey House is around 220. IV drug users have priority and can wait two to three weeks for a bed. While those with other addictions can wait up to three months.

David Martinez has been at the homeless shelter since February. While he hasn’t dealt with addiction he’s seen how waiting lists can prevent people from getting the help they need.

“They give up easily they don’t even get on a waiting list because they know it takes too long,” said Martinez.

Sid was another man we talked with who is currently addicted to meth and heroin. He’s been through addiction treatment several times but said nothing has really worked. At times he’s also waited months on a waiting list and knows how hard it can be to wait.

“Jail gives you a lot of time to think about when you get out the first thing you want to do is get high,” said Sid. “So that’s what I did.”

Experts have seen a higher rate of success when people have a bed available when they are ready to get help.

As more people have access to help officials are hoping to see more cases like Henry where they can get and stay clean.

“More good things have happened to me in this last almost a year than have happened to me in many years,” said Henry.

Operation Rio Grande is set to go on for another year until the new homeless resource centers are built.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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