By Devin Fehely

SAN JOSE (KPIX) – Santa Clara County has launched a pilot program to refocus its Sobering Center, once reserved largely for alcoholics, on treatment of meth users.

“Somebody here who is using meth and wants to go to treatment would get not just a referral but they’d actually be driven to that program. So, this is an opportunity for us to change our direction,” said Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez.

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The focus on meth users is both a reflection of the deepening methamphetamine addiction epidemic, as well as a desire to treat addiction issues as a medical problem rather than a criminal justice one.

“We have to get out of this false choice of we either have them in the jail, or we have them in the street,” said District Attorney Jeff Rosen. β€œIn the jail, they’re not getting better; they’re not getting good treatment there. And leaving them on the street doesn’t help these people get better.”

Starting March 4, San Jose Police officers who pick up someone on meth who is not violent or aggressive at the time can drop them off at the Sobering Center.

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At the center, the patients can relax in reclining chairs, take a shower, have a snack and remain for up to 24 hours. Patients brought to the Sobering Center for meth use are kept separate from patients on alcohol and other drugs.

During their stay, the patients work with nurses and social workers who encourage them to seek treatment.

“I believe that this is a health issue. And people need the opportunity to choose to get clean,” says Tina Sentner, Sobering Center Program Manager.

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The pilot program will last a year at which time it will be renewed, ended or modified depending on its success.