DENVER — As Denver grapples with record overdose and alcohol-related deaths the chief executive officer of a local treatment center shares what some consider to be a controversial take on the cause.
STEP Denver is a peer-to-peer residential treatment program for men in the LoDo district.
Paul Scudo, CEO of STEP Denver, wants people to know help is available today.
“We can provide same-day intake. There are no costs. We understand you are coming with nothing,” he said.
His urgency is genuine and comes through lived experience.
“I suffer from the disease of addiction. I could not stop drinking and using drugs, and overtime I watched myself lose everything: a wife, jobs, family, my money. I became a felon. Ultimately, I lost my home and lived on the streets for two years,” he said.
Every month, he contacts 44 low or no-cost treatment programs. He says right now there are 138 open beds in the metro, including 23 at STEP Denver.
Those numbers are consistent with multiple recovery centers Denver7 reached out to, which reported operating at 70 to 80 percent of capacity.
“The narrative that there isn’t enough availability for services has not been our experience doing that research,” Scudo said.
Right now, there is a focus on substance abuse after the Denver Medical Examiner recorded a record number of overdoses in 2023, and the CDC found a 60% increase in deaths from alcohol in Colorado since 2018.
Scudo has a controversial take on the increasing numbers and he believes it relates to the crises of homelessness.
“We have seen the key motivating elements that used to drive an individual towards help be taken away. We have decriminalized possession and use of drugs, also we are providing all of the survival needs for an individual,” Scudo Said. “We need to begin looking at addiction as the primary driver for homelessness."
Many other organizations see substance abuse as only a contributing factor to homelessness.
The Annual State of Homelessness report released this month from the Metro Denver Homeless initiative found in its survey that family breakups and the high cost of rent as the top causes of homelessness.
“I was fortunate friends put me into treatment, and I engaged in a long-term peer recovery program, and I was able to rebuild my life,” Scudo said.
STEP says their current three-year average for participants who complete their program is 80% sobriety, 85% employed and 91% independently housed.
Their peer-to-peer program based on sobriety, work and accountability may not be right for everyone but many other options are out there.
“Housing first is key. We are a housing-first entity, but along with that comes expectations that they are going to work, relearn life skills,” he said.
If you or someone you know needs help you can contact SAMHSA the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 800-662-HELP (4357).