Alcohol abuse was responsible for more than 1,000 visits to the emergency room at Mercy Regional Medical Center in fiscal year 2018, helping to make it a top concern for the hospital.
Alcohol is the “No. 1 drug of choice” in the community, in part because of its widespread availability, said Elsa Inman, hospital transformation program lead.
“We have a pretty serious problem in Durango with binge drinking,” she said.
Emergency visits related to alcohol represent about 5% of the total emergency room visits in fiscal year 2018, according to Mercy data. Many of those visits were made by the same patients coming back again and again for care, Inman said.
Most of those patients were given immediate treatment and sent on their way.
But the number of “admissions” for alcohol-related issues increased from 308 in fiscal year 2017 to 332 in fiscal year 2018, according to Mercy’s Community Health Needs Assessment.
In the assessment, Mercy identified addressing substance-use disorders – primarily alcohol abuse – as a top priority, Inman said.
The hospital now plans to screen patients for substance abuse, refer them to treatment and support new options for treatment, she said.
However, addressing alcoholism is tough because drinking is embedded in the culture of Durango, unlike methamphetamines or opioids.
As a tourist destination, Durango has numerous bars, liquor stores and events that feature alcohol as the main attraction.
Education about the risks of alcohol, especially over time, is also lacking, Inman said.
Inman is compiling additional data about alcohol use in La Plata County to help educate the community about the scope of the problem.
Mercy also plans to start screening all patients 12 years old and older for substance abuse. The hospital wants to have options in place for those patients to seek treatment, she said. Ensuring more options for treatment will require partnerships with other groups, such as Axis Health System, she said.
“We need to shore up the resources in our community,” she said.
One way to increase support for substance abuse recovery could be a new recovery community organization, Inman said. Such organizations are standalone nonprofits that organize community education and can provide peer-based recovery support services.
New certified peer support coaches could also help encourage more people to seek treatment, she said. The coaches, who have overcome substance abuse themselves, could be employed by hospitals, law enforcement and the legal system, she said.
Embark Peer Coach Academy plans to hold a training for new peer coaches in Durango during the spring, she said.
Candice Seay, lead for Young Adults in Recovery in Durango, said she is also working with local bars and restaurants to encourage more of them to serve mocktails, nonalcoholic cocktails, to provide alternatives for customers in recovery and for those who are taking a break from alcohol.
Across the country, interest in mocktails is on the rise because they provide a healthy alternative to alcoholic drinks, according to USA Today.
“There is this sober-curious movement,” Seay said.
She said she sees mocktails as an opportunity to help “shift the paradigm around going out in the community.”
From Mercy’s perspective, mocktails are a good way to support sobriety, Inman said.
“We need to tackle this from all directions,” she said.