How to Detox A Room

I was called in by a neighbor to assist them with a problem with their daughter. The daughter, a 42 year old had come in to visit them during the week prior. They acknowledged that she drank, as they said, perhaps a bit too much. She had planned this visit because she was passing through New Jersey with final plans to relocate to Alaska (from South Carolina). This stop was one in a series of geographic cures (location changes that are supposed to help in sobriety) that had developed since the woman had split from her husband, leaving her two children with the spouse in Oregon a year ago. Her history included drug and alcohol use, a suicide attempt, a 14 day hospital stay after the attempt and a short term weekend hospital stay that was not clear to me if it was for detox or a mental health observation.

During this past week, there was no visual confirmation that this woman was drinking or taking any drugs of any kind. However, the previous day the woman had spent a large about of time vomiting, and retuning to bed saying she had the flu. During my phone call with the father at 9am, the father acknowledged that the woman was convulsively shaking, grey in color and continuing to vomit, even though the woman had nothing to eat. I suggested the family immediately take her to the hospital, as she was experiencing all of the signs of alcohol detox. The family complied, yet, they continued to reaffirm their daughter had not been drinking during her stay.

Once at the hospital, the woman admitted she had been drinking continuously during her stay and also taking whatever pharmaceutical drugs were available in the house. After over 8 hours in the hospital ER, the woman was finally admitted into the detox unit, and the parents came home…literally exhausted with a totally new perspective of their daughter.

The next day was a Saturday, and I came to the house and I suggested we search the daughter’s room to see what exactly she had been taking. To search a room, an apartment or an entire house is an aspect of a recovery coach’s repertoire that is extremely important.

My first experience in detoxing or sterilizing a room, I fortunately had the assistance of a professional Crime Scene Investigator teach me how to search a room. I just stared at a suspended ceiling in the basement bedroom of a 25-year-old client; I told my CSI friend that I imagined lifting every ceiling tile to seek out any drugs. I imaged the dust, the mess, the sneezing, moving the ladder not to mention the physical excursion! Very quickly, he showed me by lifting up one tile I could scan the entire surface of the tiles with a flashlight. He lifted another tile where the contraband was located and the search was over. It was less of a mess than I thought. Continuing to go through a search process with a Crime Scene Investigator is how I really learned how sterilizing a room is done correctly.

To begin a search for contraband, you will need some tools:
1. Rubber gloves, a box at least
2. Baggies, zip lock variety, a sandwich size and a quart size at least two boxes per room.
3. A wooden ruler
4. Roll of Paper Towels
5. Small Flash Light, with a directed hi beam
6. A small multi head screw driver
7. Notepad and pens
8. Sharpie Marker
9. Scissors
10. Small ladder, or step stool
11. A cardboard box, maybe 24” x 24” x 24” and a small show box sized box.
12. A box of large plastic garbage bags, maybe two boxes for a home
13. Clear packaging tape

The legal requirements for collecting contraband are met when you can identify each piece of contraband, describe the exact location of the item when found, indicate when the item was collected (date and time of day) and be prepared to show a proper chain of custody and disposal.

Be prepared to bag all prescription bottles, contraband like crack pipes, dime bags and liquor bottles empty or not. Bag each item separately. Write on a piece of paper placed inside the bag where the items were found, by whom, the date and time of discovery. Take a photo of the bag and the notes. Make all notes identifying the contraband, location, date and time found readable by the camera shot. Make similar notes in your log. By following the search procedures that follow law enforcement protocol, it will help you in the event the client turns against you and accuses you of theft.

When first entering an area that you will be searching, walk through the room, home or apartment making mental notes on how you will handle the search. Taking photographs at this time is ideal. This walk through will give you an overview of the area. It will give you the first opportunity to identify possible contraband, good hiding places and your over all approach. Preferably, you should be the only person conducting this sterilization process, another person should be available to write notes documenting what contraband was found and photographing the contraband. If it is a large home, and if there are time restraints, you may designate two people to search each room. If it is a home, and only one client is actually suspected of hiding the contraband, the entire home must be searched, not just that person’s bedroom. It takes about three hours to search one bedroom-sized room.

To make things simple for this book, I am going to describe the process as if I am searching one room. Simply multiply these techniques for an apartment or a home.
Bedroom #1
1. After your initial walk through, place the tools just outside the door of the bedroom. Invert the cardboard box to create a small table to hold your baggies, markers, ruler etc
2. Turn on all of the lights. If you have not taken any photographs, do so now. Take a few shots of the dresser top, and include any of the table top objects that may be there.
3. Look at the room, to decide if you will start from the left of the door and go clockwise around the room or start at the right of the door and go counter clockwise around the room. Once this choice is made, do not deviate.
4. Look at the walls. In your search method everything 36” and below will be completed in the first sweep of the room. This means you will start at the floor and search up to 36”.
5. In the second sweep of the room, everything 36” and above will be searched (e.g. taking down mirrors, picture frames, looking behind them, looking above drapery valances, dismantling light fixtures, etc).
6. The suspended ceiling will be last area to investigate
7. Set this plan into your head, and/or write it down in your notebook. Note the date & time your search begins. Put on your rubber gloves
8. In the case of bedrooms, dining rooms and living rooms, there is usually a very large object in the center of the room that can also be used as an examination surface. So this is where you will begin.
9. In this case it is a bed. Go to the bed, take off all of the linens, remove the pillow cases, search for anything in the pillow by pressing them flat (not fluffing them up!), ensure there is nothing in the mattress pad lining, remove all linens and take out into the hallway.
10. Inspect the top mattress carefully, run your hands and eyes along the sides and seams, looking for cuts in the fabric. Push the mattress to the edge of the bed, and rest it standing on one edge and lean the mattress against the wall to examine the underside of the mattress.
11. Inspect the box spring the same manner. Box springs are often great hiding places because of the rigid sides. Look and feel for tears in the fabric, use of fabric adhesive, tape etc.
12. Push the box spring to the side of the bed, and place up against the top mattress, inspect the underside of the box spring
13. While the mattresses are standing against the wall, look at the space that was under the bed(s).
14. Run your hands along the bed frame and the underside of the bed frame. If there is a head board or footboard, inspect both with your hands. Move the frame and the headboard away from the wall, and inspect the area behind the headboard.
15. Once confident the bed area has been thoroughly searched, return the box spring and mattress to the bed frame. Using the bed as your ‘desk’, begin your search of the rest of the room.
16. As stated previously, start at the door, to the left or right and continue around the room.
17. Look behind the door.
18. Look for wall to wall carpet edges that have lifted, if there is an area carpet; lift a corner as far into the room as possible, look for inconsistencies in the wood floor.
19. Let us say the first object is a trashcan. Spread one of the black garbage bags on top of the mattress, and empty the trashcan contents onto this black bag that is flatten on the bed. Handle and inspect all contents. Open all discarded bottles or jars. Any empty prescription bottles, liquor bottles, and/ or contraband retain. Place each item of contraband in its own baggie; clearly making all notes identifying the contraband, readable by the camera shot. Place the contraband baggies in the smaller box. Take the four corners of the garbage bag, with the trash can contents within, tie the four corners of the garbage bag and discard out into the hall, preferably into another garbage bag.
20. Next, could be a dresser with six drawers. Take the two bottom drawers out completely. Empty one drawer onto the mattress. Inspect the underside of drawer and all exterior and interior sides. Now inspect the contents. Unroll socks, feel thoroughly all legs of pants, sweaters etc. Return folded items back into drawer. Do not refold the clothes perfectly neat, but be mindful that if you stay neat in this process, it takes much less time returning the room back into its original state.
21. Repeat with the second dresser drawer. Set both bottom drawers to the side of your working area (the bed)
22. Remove the middle two drawers, place on bed. Repeat search process with these drawers and set aside.
23. Remove the top drawers, and repeat the search process. Before placing all drawers back into the dresser, search dresser’s interior.
24. Look inside the case of the dresser, feel along the base, and reach back to the back of the dresser. Use the flashlight to illuminate your view. If you cannot reach, use the wooden ruler to inspect along the interior case of the dresser.
25. Move the dresser away from the wall, to look at the wall and the back case of the dresser. Inspect the carpet. If a mirror is attached to the dresser, search behind the mirror and wall. If not, leave it for the second phase of the search. Move dresser back against the wall
26. Replace the lower, middle and top drawers into dresser
27. When finished, all the drawers and contents should be in the same drawers and positions in the dresser.
28. When inspecting the top of the dresser, photograph it first. If you have not photographed any room or surface, photograph this one. Pull up a chair, boxes of baggies, and the roll of paper towels. From right to left, inspect the contents of the surface of the dresser. With liquid filled bottles, open them up and smell the contents. Mouthwash? Taste. Jar of moisturizer? Stick your finger and probe inside the jar. Powder? Open the powder container and empty the contents into a quart-sized baggie. Do not replace powder into the original container. Ensure the powder is not contraband and discard the baggie and the container. Open anything with a lid, inspect it, smell it, taste it, and feel it.
29. Prescription drug bottles may be in this area, as well as in a bathroom medicine cabinet. Open the bottle to confirm the contents are of the same prescription identified on the bottle. Use a Physician’s Desk Reference (apps are now available for your smart phone) to confirm the contents are the contents on the label. Confirm the label on the script bottle is your client and set aside the verified prescription drugs allowed by the client’s physician. Do not destroy any verified prescriptions until you have a conversation with your client on the validity of these drugs.
30. All prescriptions not meeting the above guidelines are considered contraband.
31. Lift any trays, baskets, or cloth protecting the surface of the dresser. Inspect the bottom of said items. Do not re-arrange the surface, leave it as it was. Photograph top of dresser when you are done. If there is a large amount of jewelry of value, identify, and bag these items. Clearly make all notes identifying the jewelry, location found, date and time found readable by the camera shot. Make notes in your log. Leave all jewelry bagged, on the dresser.
32. Now there is the clothes closet. Use the same rule you determined for the room either right to left, or left to right, inspecting the closet 36” and below in the first sweep. Go for the shoes!
33. Try to be neat but quick, look in all shoeboxes, feel inside boots, sneakers, but do not dump all the shoes on the floor and then inspect them, inspect as you go, keeping shoes in the boxes. Be glad you have rubber gloves on.
34. If the closet is a complete and utter disaster, open a large garbage bag inside an empty cardboard box and toss the shoes, clothes, etc inside this garbage bag as you search. Then tie the bag up, generally identify the contents with a label on the bag, take this bag out into the hall, place a new bag in the box and continue until you see the bottom of the closet.
35. Using your flashlight, visually inspect and feel along inside of closet door frame.
36. Thoroughly inspect floor of closet for trap doors, loose floor panels, etc.
37. Continue sweeping the room until you reach the door where you started.
38. When you finish the first sweep, regroup with new materials if needed, new gloves and begin the second sweep of the room, starting 36” and above.
39. Remove all picture frames, mirrors, posters off the walls, inspect back of frames, then re-hang the pictures back on the wall
40. Use your step stool to reach to the top of valences and drapes. Run your hand along any valence or crown molding close to the ceiling.
41. If any lights do not work, look at these closely, unscrew them from the wall look inside in shell, unscrew the stem of the lamp, inspect the shades etc.

If you have discovered any contraband, as stated earlier; bag it, mark it as to where you found it, what it is, and photograph it. Ensure the notes are readable in the photograph, and place the baggies into the cardboard box for destruction. Review the list duplicating these discoveries that were made in your notebook. It is important to be sure you verify you did not use the contraband for your own purposes. You have to protect yourself, by documenting the discoveries by following the same procedure the law enforcement officials have established.

Place all bed linen, the bag of shoes back into the room, and close the door. Mark the time this search ended.The next step is taking the box with the contraband and in the presence of a witness, destroy the contraband. The witness should be the individual that helped you document the search process. In order to discard these contents, it is very important to have a witness. However, if you think the witness could be your client, you are wrong. Do not ask the client. A parent of the client, a therapist of the client, will do if you do not have an assistant. Because of anonymity, do not ask a neighbor, janitor, or property owner.

Even after several years of sobriety, I find it very disorientating handling drugs, bags of marijuana, crack pipes, etc. I am fearful driving my car with the contraband in it. Let us say you are pressed for time, if you do not have an assistant, cannot find a witness and you have to get rid of this stuff fast, placing it in the client’s garbage is not a good idea. Drive to a public place, like a convenience store. Write down the address, photograph the location, and toss the bag in a commercial dumpster. If you really have the guts, ask someone to photograph you doing so. Self-care is important here, so get rid of this stuff so it will not haunt you.

Then go about working with your client as a recovery coach. Inform them of what you found and discarded. Anticipate they will ‘freak’ out, about being caught with this contraband and the addict will kick in and want their ‘fix’ back. Verify the prescriptions confiscated from the scene are still to be used by the client. Lastly, place copies of the documents and photos in the client’s file. If you are a contractor for a recovery coaching referral agency, ask if the firm wants a copy of these records.

In total it took me about three hours to sterilize this woman’s room. We discovered several prescription drug containers that were someone else’s, we discovered a barbiturate tablet in Tylenol PM bottle, empty methamphetamine baggies in her makeup bag, and we discovered an empty whiskey bottle in the closet. When the parents saw this particular empty bottle; they recognized it from their liquor cabinet. Going to the liquor cabinet in the living room, they discovered sixteen empty liquor bottles. Subsequently, they went to the basement and discovered a case of wine that was given as holiday gift, was also empty. A year later, after walk around the perimeter of the parent’s property, these empty wine bottles appeared under piles of leaves and lawn cuttings.

Even though the sterilization of the room had the purpose to find out what the daughter had been using, it was a grim reminder to the parents that the non drinking behavior they thought they saw in their daughter, was not the truth surrounding their daughter’s alcohol or drug use. Participating in this search was a better reinforcement of reality than if I had not had them in the room with me.

This is one of the chapters from “Guide to Coaching People in Recovery from Addiction” a book written by Melissa Killeen and available as an eBook in February 2013 on
Another Chapter will be posted next week

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One Response to How to Detox A Room

  1. So much important information to be learned of the client you’re wanting to be safe and placed appropriately. Always a bit of a shock to parents who seem so sure they know “exactly” what their child is using and taking their word for it…Great education for all…
    I do have one concern…With such a thorough sweep, could the client then be implicated legally, or put us legally responsible as professionals w/ evidence of something much more than personal use?
    Just a curious thought?
    Thank you for the post…I enjoyed reading

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