Pat Murphey, unit manager at the Moore Addictions Recovery Center in Medford, stands in one of the unit's four cells. Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune photo - Bob Pennell

Sobering prospect

On a particularly busy weekend night, it can be difficult for Medford police to find a place where a heavily intoxicated person can sleep off a bender.

Medford Police Chief Tim George said the lack of space for intoxicated people who are causing problems around town is a growing concern. Often these people are experiencing severe mental-health issues that are exacerbated by drugs or alcohol.

"We've seen some bizarre things lately," George said. "People who are completely naked and causing a disturbance. Often they are on drugs, alcohol or the sudden infusion of bath salts in our area."

An officer who confronts and subdues such a person is then tasked with removing them from the street or a residence — where they can be a threat to themselves or others — and find a place where the person can receive mental-health treatment or sleep off the effects of drugs or alcohol.

This is not as easy as it sounds.

The Jackson County Jail doesn't accept people whose only issue is that they are drunk, high or suffering a mental breakdown. It is already filled to capacity with suspects charged with serious crimes.

This is where the Moore Addictions Recovery Center in Medford steps in, providing a place for someone to sleep it off.

The Moore Center, on Front Street, serves as the area's secure and monitored facility to care for those who are too intoxicated to take care of themselves.

Pat Murphey, the unit's manager, said the number of people seeking sobering services has spiked in recent years.

"We believe the economy might have something to do with it," Murphey said. "More people are turning to drugs and alcohol to deal with their problems."

Ronelle Meier, who works at the center, said a wave of people suffering depression and other mental-health issues have complicated the sobering-services process.

"We have people who are very depressed coming in here," she said. "They say they lost their house or their job and they don't know what else to do."

George said his officers are dealing with the mentally ill at a higher rate than ever.

The department has placed mental holds on 83 people so far this year. A mental hold involves placing someone in psychiatric care following contact with police.

"These people often need immediate help," George said. "Many times they are under the influence of intoxicants."

The Moore Center is kept busy on weekend nights. The center has one, large, five-person cell, which is equipped with a metal toilet and not much else. Those who are admitted are given a pad to sleep on until they are safe to leave, Murphey said.

In addition, the center has three private cells for women — they cannot be placed with men in the community tank — or for people who can't be placed near others because they are uncooperative and acting out.

"It doesn't look like much, but some people only need a place to sleep," he said, adding that the center has seen people whose blood-alcohol levels hover near .40.

Moore Center workers provide regular check-ups of those in their care. They keep them hydrated and give them food until they are sober.

George said his department places about 1,500 people per year in the Moore Center. Without it, he said, it would be nearly impossible to keep Medford's streets free of heavily intoxicated troublemakers.

"If we didn't have the Moore Center, you would have to step over intoxicated people on the sidewalks on weekends," he said.

What the Moore Center cannot do is care for those experiencing a severe mental-health crisis. These people are turned over to a hospital.

Rogue Valley Medical Center's behavioral health unit, which admits those suffering from serious mental-health issues, has only 17 beds.

These beds are normally full, as RVMC is the only facility in the area that provides this service, said hospital spokesman Grant Walker.

"The nearest in-patient psychiatric unit is in Coos Bay," Walker said.

Last year, 512 people were admitted to the behavioral health unit. Fifty-six were transported to another hospital out of the area because all of RVMC's psychiatric beds were full.

Sometimes the Moore Center will serve as a detox place for those who were admitted to the behavioral health unit.

"They send them to us because they can't diagnose someone when they are loaded," Murphey said. "We get them sobered up, and then they return to the behavioral health unit."

Murphey said that without sobering services, many of these people could die in the elements.

"Sometimes they are so loaded that they can't take care of themselves," he said. "They would pass out in the park in the winter."

George said the area's mental health and sobering services do not always have the capacity to handle the number of people who need help.

"The Moore Center is great, but it does fill up quickly some nights," he said. "Then we have to find a family member or someone who will take in an intoxicated subject and keep them safe."

This can involve hours of police time that would be better spent patrolling the roads, George said.

"There's just a limited number of places to put people," George said. "When they are full, sometimes it's difficult to find a place to keep them off the streets. Right now, sobering services is our safety valve. I couldn't imagine police work without it."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or

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