Taos Pueblo sees need for detox center

By John Miller
Posted 8/2/19

A woman who lost her brother to alcoholism. A mother raising her grandchild after her son became addicted to methamphetamine. A tribal judge who sees addiction every day in the defendants who come …

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Taos Pueblo sees need for detox center


Updated Aug. 1 at 3 p.m.

A woman who lost her brother to alcoholism. A mother raising her grandchild after her son became addicted to methamphetamine. A tribal judge who sees addiction every day in the defendants who come through his courtroom.

A Pueblo governor who credits detox services, unavailable in Taos County now for almost four years, with helping him find the path to sobriety decades ago.

While Taos Pueblo Community Wellness Manager Aurora Valdez organized Tuesday night’s (July 30) discussion about the need for a new detox center in Taos County from a “neutral” position, dozens of tribal members who attended made it clear: Taos Pueblo sees the need for a detox center.

“We know that we have an issue in Taos County,” said Tribal Police Chief Gary Lefthand at the public meeting, held at the Taos Pueblo Community Center. “The issue is drugs. The issue is alcohol. As a public servant, we see it every day. It doesn’t matter what side of the cattle guard or fence you’re at,” Lefthand said, referring to the structures that divide Taos Pueblo land from the town of Taos.

That perspective – that addiction has swept across Northern New Mexico without discrimination for color or culture – motivated tribal officials to open Tuesday’s meeting to everyone who holds a stake in the proposal for a new detox center for Taos County.

“I consider it one community,” said Taos Pueblo Tribal Secretary Harold Lefthand. “What lies there, lies here.”

Taos Pueblo Gov. Richard Aspenwind opened with a prayer in the pueblo’s native Tiwa language. Later in the evening, when Valdez asked if anyone would share a personal experience with detox, Aspenwind volunteered.

“Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, there were two detoxes in the community in Taos and a lot of people found help there,” he said, explaining that the first detox center was located in Ranchos de Taos. When that location closed, another detox opened on Kit Carson Road.

“In my recovery, I utilized both of those places, and to this day, I’m very thankful to all of the people who worked there,” he said.

But Aspenwind also said that detox, which typically only lasts about eight days before a client is released, is just the first step on a long road to recovery.

“Recovery is not always what you think it’s going to be,” he said. “There are all kinds of pitfalls, all kinds of emotions. That’s something that we need to make our people aware of: We can have a detox, but we also need to support these recovering people along the way, too.”

Several tribal members said that reaching that first step is extremely difficult without a local detox center.

“I’ve experienced going to the detox in Santa Fe, and it’s a very long way, especially for the individual who needs detox services,” said one woman. “They ended up becoming frustrated, agitated and angry. I think if something here is local, it would be of much more benefit.”

Lawrence Medina, the Director of Rio Grande Alcoholism Treatment Program, provided an update Tuesday evening on his organization’s plans to open a detox center in Taos.

Earlier this year, Rio Grande won a request for proposal from Taos County to reopen a detox, a little over three years after the last detox center closed on Weimer Road. While the county has promised several hundred thousand dollars in funding for the project, no county-owned buildings were available to house it; a county contract will not take effect until a suitable building has been approved for use as a detox center.

Medina has signed a lease for a town-owned building at 920 Salazar Road and submitted a special use permit application to convert it to a detox center, but his application must be approved by the town’s planning and zoning commission. A hearing for his application is set for Aug. 7 at 6 p.m.

Shannon Lujan, a public health nurse at the pueblo, said Taos County needs more than just detox center. Medina said detox is just the first step in his project, which will also include a “crisis triage unit,” allowing his operation to access federal Medicaid funds.

Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe backed Medina: “I support Rio Grande. I support my county commission for awarding them the contract and I hope that the town of Taos will do whatever they need for the variance so we can get this thing rolling. I will try my best to be at your meeting and you will have my support on this matter.”

Town manager Rick Bellis, who was also present at Tuesday’s discussion but did not share his perspective, has expressed opposition to Medina’s proposal. Instead, he favors a model that would involve Valle del Sol, Holy Cross Medical Center and Shadow Mountain Recovery, organizations that would work in tandem to create what he has described as a “continuum of care” for addicts.

Their public disagreement was referenced more than once at Tuesday’s meeting, with some tribal members expressing concern that it might delay a service they see as a need for their people, and the many others that call Taos County home.


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