The Baton Rouge Area Alcohol and Drug Center is opening a new facility on South Foster Drive that could more than triple its overnight capacity for people suffering from substance addictions.
Detox center officials said they expect to close on the 36,000-square-foot building this week for $1.6 million. The new facility will be at a former Veterans Affairs clinic and could house between 70 and 100 overnight clients, said Lisa Bailey, the center’s executive director.
The detox center has been at 1819 Florida Boulevard for 40 years, serving people with alcohol and drug addictions. The clients, many of them homeless, receive medical treatment and participate in social programs at the center.
The Florida Boulevard building is 9,000 square feet, and can only hold 29 overnight clients. The center typically has a waiting list of 400 people, Bailey said.
The detox center will operate both locations, retaining the bed capacity at the original location.
Bailey said serving more people with addiction will “reduce crime and make a safer community.”
“There will be a lot less people on the streets using,” Bailey said. “Because when they can’t come in, even when they’re on the waiting list, they’re still using. They’re still committing crimes, they’re still drinking and driving.”
Sheriff Sid Gautreaux has said that more than 90 percent of the people booked into parish prison suffer from substance abuse.
“I’m appreciative for the additional 70 beds, but we could used 170 more beds,” Gautreaux said. “There’s so many services like that, that need to be provided for people who are at risk and are indigent for the most part.”
The Tau Program at Our Lady of the Lake also provides medical detox services in the parish for addicts, but requires patients to have insurance.
Bailey said the detox center serves about 1,700 people per year in its inpatient and outpatient services. She said 60 percent of them suffer from drug problems and 40 percent suffer from alcohol addiction.
Clients may stay with the facility for up to 40 days, Bailey said, but some clients in the past haven’t been able to stay as long as needed because of space limitations.
Detox center officials have been looking for a new location for years, expecting they would either move into a building donated by the city-parish on the corner of 18th Street and Florida Boulevard, or build a new facility.
The city-parish building, across 18th Street from the detox center, currently houses the East Baton Rouge Parish Planning Commission, which is expected to eventually be relocated to another city-parish building.
Officials also considered building a new facility at the corner of Convention Street and Acadian Thruway, opposite Baton Rouge General Medical Center-Mid City.
Board chair Blake McGehee said it would have cost $2 million to refurbish the city-parish building yielding 100 beds, while building a new facility would have cost more than $4 million and would only have had space for 50 beds.
The former Veterans Affairs clinic site on South Foster Drive, across from Baton Rouge Community College, is already set up for most of the detox center’s needs, Bailey said, with room for doctor offices, a nurse’s station, client rooms and shared space for classes and seminars.
McGehee said he expects renovations to cost about $300,000.
“This was the better option,” McGehee said.
Bailey said the detox center is considering working with law enforcement officers to set up a sober unit in the new building, so officers can drop off drunk people at the center, rather than booking them into jail or taking them to a hospital emergency room.
Bailey said the detox center would give drunk people a supervised placed to sober up, and could encourage those brought in to seek help for a possible alcohol addiction.
McGehee said he hopes to have the new facility up and operating by the end of the year.
The detox center’s operating budget is $1.5 million, coming from donations, state funds, federal grants and a city-parish allocation of $319,000.
Metro Councilman Trae Welch said the detox center serves a vital role in reducing crime because crime is frequently linked to substance abuse.
“Once they get to prison it means there’s already a victim out there somewhere,” Welch said. “We want to get to them before they commit the crime.”