Mental health gets opioid funding

Published 2:42 am Thursday, November 2, 2017

Center can help addicts with medication-assisted therapy

For those dealing with opioid addiction, help could be as close as the South Central Alabama Mental Health Center.

Donna Beasley, substance abuse services director at SCAMHC, said the center received a Cures grant to addicts overcome pill addiction.

“We received the grant from the state Department of Mental Health,” Beasley said. “We can assist opiate addicts with medication-assisted therapy if needed.”

The SCAMHC can also provide Narcan, the antidote administered in response to an opioid overdose.

The Cures grants are federally funded as a result of the 21st Century Cures Act, which President Obama signed in December of 2016. The act provided $1 billion in new funding to combat the opioid crisis. The effort includes include expanding community-based efforts to prevent drug use before it begins, empowering healthcare workers to intervene in dealing with patients at earlier stages of substance use disorder, expanding access to treatment for those who need it, supporting the millions of Americans in recovery, and pursuing targeted approaches to drug enforcement.

In Alabama, the funds were only awarded to locations that operate substance abuse programs. SCAMH has an in-patient program, First Step, and an out-patient substance abuse program.

Beasley said if an opiate addict contacts SCAMH for help, the first step is to have the addict evacuated by a physician.

“Because of the opiate epidemic, we are required to do a screening and full assessment within 24 hours,” Beasley said. “Then, if they need suboxone, it can be prescribed. Suboxone helps curb the cravings for opiates, but they have to be in therapy and working a program to participate. Therapy has to be a component.”

Addicts and alcoholics from across the state are referred by other mental health centers to First Step, the in-patient treatment program, and Beasley said she is seeing a lot of people with opiate programs from Birmingham and Tuscaloosa.

“And we are seeing more from our area than you’d think,” she said.

As a result of the national opioid crisis, many rules have changed, Beasley said. Now, some patients who once got 90-day prescriptions only get 30-day prescriptions. Doctors are learning more about the problems and writing fewer prescriptions. As a result, it is more difficult for addicts to get pills legally or illegally.

“They’re not for sale on the street as much, because there is less supply,” she said. “That’s why you see people turn to heroin. Heroin is cheaper, and easier to get. And the danger is that much of the heroin is laced with fentanyl, on opioid used as part of anesthesia.

“Once people shoot it up, they sometimes don’t wake up,” Beasley said. “This is just part of the national opiate epidemic.”

Beasley, who has spent more than 20 years working at First Step, said when she first joined the local staff, they mostly saw alcohol, marijuana and cocaine use.

“Then they moved from cocaine to crack,” she said. “In the 2000s, it moved more to meth.

“Now, we are seeing so many that are abusing or addicted to opiates,” she said. “Usually, it starts out with injury for which they are prescribed Lortab or some other pain medication.”

The dangers of heroin laced with fentanyl is so great, in larger cities, offices must wear special gloves if they make an arrest that involves it.

“It’s not here yet, I don’t think,” she said. “But in larger cities, if they arrest

someone for opiates, they have to wear special gloves. The fentanyl is strong, that just with skin contact, it can be an overdose.”

One of the facets of the new funding is that there is a staff member who acts much like a life coach, staying in touch with recovering addicts when they leave the program.

At one point, First Step’s numbers had dwindled due to competition from faith-based treatment programs. But Alabama’s prison reform efforts has First Step working with drug court, court referral, and Probation and Parole to help people overcome the addictions that led them to crimes.

“We are seeing a lot more participation locally now than we have in the past, she said.

First Step works closely with Herring Houses in Dothan, a half-way house that helps clients in recovery transition back to the workplace.

Editor’s note: Before a consumer can be placed in a substance abuse treatment program through mental health, a substance abuse assessment must be done.  To schedule an assessment, call (334) 428-5040.