Austin-Travis County Sobering Center expands program’s scope

Sophie Ryland, News Reporter

The Austin-Travis County Sobering Center expanded its services to help people coming off stimulants and to connect all of its clients with long-term recovery resources.

The center, which opened in 2018, serves as a safe space for people under the influence of drugs or alcohol as an alternative to jail or hospitalization. On Oct. 7, the center unveiled its new stimulant dorm, a room designed to meet the needs of those detoxing from stimulants, as opposed to depressants like alcohol. Previously, the center divided clients into rooms based on gender, but now rooms are sorted based on the kind of substance people are on, said Laura Elmore, executive director of the center and a UT alumna.

“If we’re simultaneously trying to avoid mass incarceration, avoid crowding hospitals, and respond to addiction and mental health disorders as the chronic diseases of the brain that they are, we have to build out the infrastructure and capacity of the community to support that,” Elmore said.

Elmore said clients detoxing from depressants typically require sleep, while those coming off stimulants need to calm their brains down.

A social work senior, who wished to remain anonymous and who previously abused stimulants, said the comedown from stimulants is its own experience.

“With the meth, oftentimes I would stay up for several days in a row,” they said. “Towards that part, you get prone to psychosis and stuff like that. Even after the drugs wear off, it can be a long time before you actually fall asleep.”

Elmore said the center is working to provide long-term care for clients who are waiting for a spot at a treatment facility, which can take an extended period of time to become available.

Jana Ortega, the chair of the board of directors at the center, said it is helpful to provide access to supervised care while clients wait for options at long-term treatment facilities.

“There is a population that comes in to us and does express a need for treatment and a desire for treatment, and it’s hard to turn that away,” Ortega said. “Our (employees) care a lot about our clients … so if we let them go back out in the street with, ‘Just go call this number’ or something along those lines, the chances that they’re going to do that are very slim.”

The social work senior, who works as a peer support specialist in the field of addiction, said they have personally experienced and also seen clients face challenges getting long-term treatment, especially without insurance.

“There’s not as many places that use any sort of city (or) state funding and the places that do are really filled up and have big waiting lists,” they said.

Ortega said it is fulfilling to support clients who are beginning recovery.

“That’s a great feeling to know that we have gotten that person some help to where they can function again in society,” Ortega said. “Knowing that we are keeping them from taking a trip down to the Travis County Jail … and an expensive trip to the emergency room … is very rewarding as well.”