Oakland County mental health authority to open substance abuse crisis center

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published March 28, 2017

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PONTIAC — When drug addicts or alcoholics finally get to the point where they’re willing to ask for help fighting their disease, it’s a huge step.

But that major milestone can sometimes fall apart if help for that patient isn’t available for days, weeks or longer.

“We’ve always had the goal that we wanted to place substance users who come to us for help in a residential care unit within 48 hours, but around the entire state there are capacity issues,” said Christina Nicholas, administrator of substance abuse prevention and treatment services for the Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority. “We’ve done pretty well with that 48-hour average, but we know that some people who come to us for help are homeless or coming from police agencies who would rather put someone who would benefit from treatment with us than send them to jail. Those people have no place to go.”

But soon they will. The OCCMHA is gearing up to launch the Resource and Crisis Center later this spring. It’s described as a new facility on the Oakland County government campus that accommodates the immediate substance use needs of the community by offering a sort of interim unit for those awaiting residential services for addiction problems that require withdrawal management and other 24-hour care.

“The unit will be staffed with peer recovery coaches who’ve had long-term recovery and more than 40 hours of detailed training,” Nicholas said. “They can help motivate people to go to treatment. If someone comes to us and wants to go (to treatment) but there isn’t an immediate bed available, they can stay in this unit so they have support and monitoring and the ability to be moved to get immediate medical attention in an emergency.”

The goal, she explained, is to not lose the substance users while they await treatment. If a rehabilitation center doesn’t have a vacancy for several days, there’s a chance that the users will return to an environment with their usual enablers and substances of choice.

“This really isn’t a treatment unit, but more of an engagement center. Right now, we can get outpatient-eligible clients into treatment same day or next day. For those where it takes longer, we can work with them so we don’t lose that person,” she said.

And every substance user helped and every life saved is important, particularly as Michigan and the country as a whole experience a growing drug epidemic. Drugs classified as opioids are becoming increasingly popular, stemming from growing use of powerful prescription painkillers and sometimes leading to street drugs like heroin.

“Partnerships are an important element in our strategy to address the opioid epidemic being faced by our county and nation,” Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said in a prepared statement. “Our ongoing relationship with OCCMHA demonstrates our commitment to families and individuals whose lives are impacted by substance use disorders.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported significant increases in drug overdose death rates from 2014 to 2015 in many states, including Michigan. The number of drug-related deaths has risen in Michigan in the last decade, climbing to 1,745 statewide in 2014.

Common Ground has been selected by the OCCMHA to manage the residential, non-medical unit, and will accommodate 10 individuals at any given time, 24 hours per day, year-round.

The unit is one of several efforts the OCCMHA has taken on to combat growing drug and alcohol use in Oakland County. While the funding for the detox program is in place, Nicholas said other county mental health services might need to be reprioritized or even eliminated if federal health care changes arise.

“Substance use services have been largely underfunded for many years. The Affordable Care Act has not only made it possible for treatments to be funded appropriately, but people with substance use disorders often have medical problems, and before ACA, had zero insurance and didn’t qualify for Medicaid. For those suffering with significant medical issues, focusing on recovery becomes very difficult,” she said. “We’ve always been very careful to make sure we have enough funding for people, and this (RCC) will come to fruition, but we might have to look at other services that are not your traditional treatment services and decrease them if ACA is repealed, and that’s a real shame.”

The Resource and Crisis Center will work in tandem with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office’s Jail Diversion program and also with individuals who don’t engage with law enforcement. Service access information can be found online at OCCMHA.org.

The Oakland County complex is located at 1200 N. Telegraph Road in Pontiac.

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