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Representative spends a night in sobering center, voluntarily

State Rep. Duane Stark didn't have anything to occupy him other than his mind when he entered the new Grants Pass Sobering Center at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

So he started working on his sermon for a service this Sunday at River Valley Church, where he is a pastor, he said this morning as he exited the center.

He dozed off at 9:30 Tuesday night and had "an OK night of sleep" in the tiny green room, which comes furnished only with a sleeping pad, a sink and a toilet.

He said he woke up at 11:45 p.m. and was certain it was morning, evidently because the room is never completely dark. A staff member who periodically checks the rooms informed him otherwise.

"The hardest part was not knowing what time it was," Stark said.

The lawmaker wanted to raise awareness of the sobering center, which opened last spring at 1010 S.W. Foundry St. in a former recycling center, and to see how it works.

"I'm so proud of this place, and the community for creating this sobering center," Stark said. "I want to remind the community we need to support it going forward, financially or in prayer."

Only one other person shared the 12-room facility Tuesday night, a man coming down from methamphetamine, who was there for 20 hours, said Pat Murphey, the center's director.

"You could tell he'd been up for several days," Murphey said. "He was hallucinating all day and into the evening."

When the center opened, fewer than one person per day was using it, and that's grown to an average of about 10 or 11 a week, Murphey said. The most at one time was six "residents." The average stay is about 15 hours.

Alcohol is the most frequently abused substance, followed by methamphetamine, Murphey said.

"Word has gotten out that this is a place you can sober up if last night was too tough," said Stark, who joined fellow state Rep. Carl Wilson of Grants Pass to spearhead legislation in 2015 to expand sobering centers statewide.

About 30 percent admit themselves to the center, and the rest are brought in by police.

If someone is suspected of a crime, they are not brought to the center, but go to jail, Murphey added.

Suicidal people are held at Asante Three Rivers Medical Center, though the sobering center may be equipped to handle them in the future, Murphey said.

On one occasion a person who was being admitted to the center was arrested by police at the front desk.

Murphey said it's been a big success.

"If we didn't have this, people who suffer from addiction would have less exposure to recovery, treatment and solutions that can help them find a different way to live," Murphey said.

When discharged, clients are briefed on available treatment services. Options for Southern Oregon, a nonprofit organization focusing on mental health, has someone at the Sobering Center every day at 7 a.m. to offer assistance.

Rochelle Bullock of Options showed up Wednesday to see how Stark handled his "sobering experience," as Murphey called it.

"He seemed to be in a good state of mind," Bullock said.

"They checked on me periodically and offered me water and Gatorade," Stark said.

The big picture is that substance abusers now have another way to get help.

Said Murphey: "They get a little bit of hope here."

Rep. Duane Stark rests Wednesday before being released from a 12-hour overnight stay at the Grants Pass Sobering Center, where he spent the night to experience the operation first-hand. photo by TIMOTHY BULLARD / Daily Courier