Rio Arriba County Commissioners James Martinez, Leo Jaramillo and Danny Garcia released an open letter July 14 expressing support for Darrin’s Place, a substance use disorder treatment facility set to open in the former Española nursing home.
Responding to recent controversy over the fact that the facility would open next to Fairview Elementary School, the commissioners state in the letter that they are saddened by community members’ rhetoric that advances unproven fears and amplifies the social stigma of those seeking drug treatment.
“We are talking about our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, and children,” they state. “As a community we need to try to serve, to heal and to give a new opportunity to our own.”
Darrin’s Place would not threaten neighborhood or children’s safety, they state–in fact, it would likely decrease crime in the area.
“No research study, and there have been many, has found an increase in crime, increased threats to children, or any similar safety concern” around drug treatment centers, the letter states.
They note that there is long-standing and well-established drug use, vagrancy and crime in the neighborhood around the school, but that despite the need for treatment in the area, community members are arguing that professional and medically qualified treatment will pose a security threat and a hazard.
“Actually, areas where drug treatment centers are located have been shown to have even less crime than other types of medical centers,” they state.
They write that between 15 and 28 percent of Americans will have a substance use disorder at some point in their lives, making substance use disorder everyone’s problem.
“There is an evidence-based policy argument here, but there is also a moral and ethical argument to be made,” they write. “It is unethical to make policy decisions based on fear and prejudice, in direct opposition to the objective evidence and to established best practices. Providing these services is not only for the benefit of the individual drug user to improve their quality of life, but also to lessen the social and economic burden on their families, their friends, and our community as a whole.”
On Tuesday, a group of activists met with the Española firefighters union to urge them to pressure local and state officials to oppose the construction of Darrin’s Place.
Roughly a dozen people donned masks and gathered outside the main fire station in Española, where firefighters met with three activists who want the facility to operate elsewhere in the city.
As firefighters checked attendees’ temperatures and repeatedly told them to maintain social distancing, they heard from Marcie Davis, Debra Martinez and Charles Maestas.
Charles Maestas asked the firefighters union to reach out to their state office to tell the governor’s office that it is a bad idea to put Darrin’s Place next to a school.
“Be a voice for your state, ask them to reconsider this,” Maestas said. He suggested as alternatives the Oñate monument center, the former Cariños Charter School building, the National Guard armory, or a wing of the Española Hospital.
Maestas is a former Española municipal judge who in 2002 was removed and found guilty of rape and coercing women into sex in exchange for leniency. The rape charges were dismissed after Maestas served three years in the Los Lunas state prison.
Marcie Davis asked the firefighters whether they are prepared to respond to calls for service at Darrin’s Place.
“These are overdoses, seizures, things like that, this is not a medical facility, it’s a drug treatment facility where they don’t have the medical means to deal with the medical needs that are gonna come up with people,” Davis said.
Though Darrin’s Place will not be equipped to perform emergency procedures, the facility will have a medical director who is a doctor, a nurse practitioner authorized to perform a range of medical procedures, a high complexity toxicology lab and the ability to write prescriptions, said Darrin’s Place Chief Operating Officer Jeff Lymburner in a Tuesday phone call.
Debra Martinez at the meeting said there is a need for a drug treatment facility but said it must be kept away from schools for the same reason people wear seat-belts, apply sunscreen or lock their doors at night.
“Why on Earth would a state representative, county commissioners, the City Council, our elected officials, allow a 100-bed facility with criminals, sex offenders, alcoholics, drug addicts, people with mental disorders, right next to Fairview Elementary School?” she said. “There’s 500 kids that attend that school, 500 innocent children that attend that school.”
Darrin’s Place will not admit sexual offenders or anyone who is unrepentantly violent, according to Lymburner and a County document about safety at Darrin’s Place.
Martinez also requested police reports from 2015 to 2020 taken at a facility called Four Winds, a substance use disorder treatment program that Darrin’s Place staff and County officials have sometimes used as an example of a similar facility.
She attached 159 pages of reports to a July 13 letter to the Española City Council with a summary of some of the incidents, which include clients allegedly using violent language and making threats and clients being discharged from the facility because of drug use.
“WHO WILL PROTECT OUR CHILDREN AND WHY IS OUR ELECTED LEADERSHIP SILENT,” she states in the letter.
Though Darrin’s Place staff and County officials have used Four Winds as an example, Lymburner said in a July 17 phone call that the two facilities are entirely separate entities and should not be considered the same.
The physical layout of Darrin’s Place includes an 8-foot wall around the full perimeter of the facility, and there is no wall at Four Winds, he said.
He also reviewed the police reports and found zero incidents that involved members of the public, beyond the confines of the facility.
He found 11 assaults and nine drug-related calls to police over a five-and-half year period, but none of the incidents involved anyone from the surrounding neighborhood or beyond, he said.
“In no instance could we find any incident in five years in which a member of the public came into any harm,” he said.
Up until 2015, the Four Winds facility had been a Motel 6 with high levels of crime and drug abuse, he said.
Because of what the site used to be, previous users may have visited it for a time as it became established as a behavioral health facility, he said.
“When it was taken over and turned into a behavioral health facility, there was a significant improvement in the crime rates in that zone,” he said.
Because of the wall and the security that will be implemented at Darrin’s Place, he believes people planning to commit crimes would have little motivation to approach the facility, he said.
And he said that people struggling with substance use disorder hang out in places near the school already.
“It’s really quite bizarre to think it won’t be better by having a reasonable number of people getting care here as opposed to just randomly wandering around,” he said.