Opened on Oct. 1, 2018, the mission of the Austin (Travis County, Texas) Sobering Center is “to enhance public health and public safety by providing an alternative to the emergency room and jail for publicly intoxicated individuals to sober up and, when appropriate, provide a safe environment to initiative recovery.” Only Austin’s first responders (e.g., law enforcement officers and emergency medical technicians) are permitted to bring people under the influence of any substance except PCP to withdraw at the Center. However, if a person is with an individual who is intoxicated and in need of care, the person can call 911 and request that the individual be taken to the Center. Instead of going to a hospital or a jail, first responders bring individuals to the Center where staff treats, assesses, and monitors them. Specifically, the Center provides medical screening to ensure that a patient can be served at the Center and does not need to go to an emergency room. Once that is determined, the Center not only provides a safe place to sober up, but it offers peer counseling; conducts screenings, brief interventions, referrals, and placements to treatment (SBIRT); and enables individuals to avoid a criminal arrest.
The Center is a nonprofit organization that receives $1.8 million annually from the City of Austin, Texas. A recent evaluation of the Center found that in its first year of operation, public intoxication arrests have decreased by 19 percent from the previous year (when the Center did not exist), and in its first year, just under 40 percent of those who entered the Center where referred to treatment for a substance use disorder. The study also found that the Center saves tax and emergency room dollars, with roughly 2,000 public intoxication arrests per year. Each emergency room visit costs approximately $1,400, each ambulance transport costs approximately $876, each jail booking costs approximately $152, and each law enforcement officer’s time per booking costs approximately $75, equaling an approximate cost savings of just over $4 million per year.
The Austin Sobering Center not only saves money but saves lives. For more information, logon to https://soberingcenter.org/.