From the opinion panel: Treat the cause, not the symptoms, of meth crisis

Friday, May 12, 2023

Given challenges around addiction in Boulder and other places, as well as well-publicized issues around meth contamination in public restrooms, what are the city’s responsibilities in contributing to solutions for these crises? When looking to house those in recovery, how should the city navigate issues around finding a property and concerns from neighbors?

Not In Our Town” by D.C. Atty, via Flickr Creative Commons

Fred Hobbs: Housing for those in recovery makes fiscal sense

Imagine that you have a water leak above the ceiling in your home. The leak is causing damage to your ceiling. Do you:

a) Fix the leak itself to prevent further damage to your ceiling, or
b) Fix the ceiling over and over while never addressing the leak?

Most people would agree that fixing the leak would be a far more reasonable and cost-effective approach compared to constantly repairing the ceiling. That logic also applies to the best way to respond to the challenges and costs of the plague of drug addiction in our country.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, the annual impact of illicit drug use is estimated to be $193 billion. Society is already paying a big price when our fellow citizens fall into the clutches of drug addiction.

Smart governments recognize that the best way to reduce those costs in the long term is to focus on treating drug abuse. Treatment has been proven to be an extremely cost effective alternative to spending additional resources on law enforcement or incarceration for drug offenses.

Last year, the federal government devoted a historically high 57.1% of drug control resources to demand-reduction programs and activities. Compare those numbers to 1997, when the estimated social costs of substance abuse in the United States exceeded $294 billion, yet only $11.9 billion of the total social cost was spent on treatment.

Clearly, our federal government has evolved its thinking and is trying to fix the leak (treating addiction) instead of trying to fix the ceiling (never-ending and costly law enforcement and incarceration efforts).

Closer to home, Boulder has also recognized the wisdom behind metaphorically fixing the leaks that are the societal costs of drug addiction. More than $1 million of the funds Boulder County received from opioid settlements is being directed toward existing treatment programs. Additionally, city and county partners are working to implement substance recovery homes throughout Boulder County as part of Project Recovery.

Local objections notwithstanding, Boulder’s drive to provide stable housing for individuals in substance abuse programs through Project Recovery will, in the long term, lessen the financial and personal costs of drug addiction in our fair city. It is a sound fiscal approach that benefits our community in many ways.

We know we have a leak that is causing damage. Let’s fix it the smart way.

Fred Hobbs is Director of Public Relations at Imagine!, an organization that serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He is also a Colorado native who cares deeply about the future of his state. More about Fred

Doug Hamilton: Much ado about nothing

Providing transitional housing for those leaving addiction is essential to ensure that people have the support they need. Having fewer people addicted to criminalized drugs is a net positive that will pay dividends for the safety of both individuals and the community.

With meth contamination closing down the public bathrooms in our library and other signs of its widespread use in the community, we all want less people using this horrible drug. The only way to have fewer addicted people is to treat their underlying trauma that is causing them to use in the first place — and treating trauma takes a long time.

Unfortunately, we have no right to medical care or housing in this country. If you don’t come from means and you are stuck in a cycle of addiction, the ability to pay for either is practically impossible.

While city and county governments may not be fully responsible for the addiction, they are really one of the few structures in our community with the organizational capacity and the means to do something about it. That’s why they are essential in finding community-based solutions to the problem.

In her recent op-ed, Jennifer Livovich, executive director of Feet Forward, noted the absence of stable transitional housing for homeless people after leaving detox. She advocated for creating a transitional program that she called the “HUB” that “serves as a supportive, sober place” for unhoused people to stay clean while they transition out of homelessness.

As Livovich explains, in Boulder, after people leave the detox facility, if they haven’t secured their own housing, they will typically end up back on the streets, increasing the opportunity for relapse. In Livovich’s HUB, residents can get access to critical mental health treatment, collective living and support from their fellow residents, and safety.

Boulder County and the City of Boulder are trying to do the same thing by purchasing a few homes for transitional sober living. While doing so, these entities are keeping the locations secret out of privacy concerns for the home occupants seeking treatment. This has a few folks up-in-arms that former drug users may be their neighbors. But these are not dangerous people; they are people on a path to healing.

We need a lot more of these types of places for people to have a safe place to heal and recover from addiction. I applaud our city and county officials for standing behind their convictions to help their fellow neighbors.

Doug Hamilton is a parent, lawyer, engineer and human who believes in free public spaces and a more participatory society. More about Doug.


Boulder Beat Opinion Panel members are writing in their own capacity. Their views do not necessarily reflect those of Boulder Beat.

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1 Comment Leave a comment

  1. “… former drug users may be their neighbors”

    Is there any actual requirement that residents of these facilities be former, rather than current, drug users? If not, the concern that those residents may be actual, current drug users — with all of the attendant issues — doesn’t seem unreasonable.

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