Commission favors forming mental health coalition
Many agencies have been working independently to address mounting drug abuse and mental illness problems in the Carbon County area.
But no single organization to address all the related issues has been formed.
However, the situation will apparently change based on information presented to the Carbon County Commission on Feb. 16.
A pair of agenda items at the meeting brought up the subject and introduce the idea of creating one group of professionals to help coordinate programs throughout the county.
"It's sad that a few dollars may keep many people from treatment programs that could help them for the rest of their lives," said County Commissioner Mike Milovich after listening to the comments made by agency representatives and local residents who have completed treatment.
A number of attendees at the meeting pointed out that many people have wanted to become drug-free, but were stopped from entering into treatment because of the cost.
"We created the Carbon County Drug Coalition with representatives from many agencies," explained Bonnie Seals, Utah Department of Child and Family Services representative. "We have generated lots of ideas, but we have no chief. We need to formalize the process so we know where we are going next and we need to develop resources."
The coaltion's membership includes representatives from the DCFS, Utah Department of Corrections, the courts, public education and Four Corners Mental Health.
"We need this group to collect data and to look at the overlaps in the services," said Carbon Commissioner Steve Burge. "We don't want to get bogged down in red tape on this program. It needs to get going, but when funded and money is involved, someone always wants to take over."
Seals indicated that the key to resolving the drug abuse problem is education not only at the secondary school level, but in the community as a whole. One of the initial goals of the group was to develop a juvenile drug court.
The county has already funded the implementation of local adult drug court program.
A drug court operates on an immediate punishment/reward basis. Offenders are referred to the program and agree to comply with stringent rules for the length of the drug court commitments. If participants break the rules, they may receive immediate jail time and/or other repercussions.
"We have a commitment to drug courts and will go after funding for them," said Milovich.
While residents voiced concerns about methamphetamine and Oxycontin, mental health officials pointed out that many problems in general are not being served adequately.
"The truth is that federal support for mental health and treatment abuse services are under terrible stress," said Bob Greenburg, director of Four Corners. "We have lost about $1 million in support for mental health treatment in the last couple of years."
Discussing current services, Greenburg pointed out that Four Corners recently had to reduce staff by one and one-half people. The agency may face more reductions due to the lack of funding.
Drug treatment and mental health programs suffer because so many people cannot afford to continue treatment, primarily because of the the cutbacks.
"I have now been clean for 19 months and it's due to the program. But I was lucky because I had the money to get in," said Gait. "It's hard to get in without money to put down. They have to turn away a lot of people who want help."
To the average Carbon citizen, $150 to $300 to get into the program may be a small price to pay. But for people attempting to break free of the drug culture, that amount of money might be impossible to pay.
"Drug people usually have totally depleted their assets, so they have no way to get in," said Gait. "When you're a drug addict the only thing you have to look forward to is getting arrested or dying. If you're arrested and you go to prison they just don't have the tools to treat the problem, which is an illness."
These statements and others brought the commissioners to ask Greenburg how much it would cost the county to fund initial costs to get anyone who wanted into treatment each year. While Greenburg said he wasn't sure, he thought around $60,000 per year might do it. Milovich asked him to get more exact figures put together in the next month so the commission could look at what might be needed.
Richard Maynard, who also works at Four Corners, only pay 10 percent of the actual cost of the course.
"Substance abuse is truly expensive," he said. "But remember that people who come into the program also do better when they invest their own money."
That brought up the fact that ultimately the individual should probably pay in some way for the direct costs, even if it is in an indirect way.
At that point the idea of using those who get county money to get into the program for county service projects arose. A lot of people liked the idea of tying responsibility to the help they would get.
"I think what we are interested in is to provide more money for increasing the capacity of the mental health system to handle these growing problems," said Milovich. "We could have the sign a contract that they would do some kind of work. I can see how a free ride to get into this might not provide accountability."
Other concerns about the situation in the community also were voiced at the meeting.
Zena Robinson of the Frontier Project told commissioners not to forget the children that are involved when considering the issues.
Deedee Howa, who does student counseling on drug problems at the College of Eastern Utah also pointed out that drug abuse problems with college students on the campus is growing as well.
"What we are coming across more and more is not the casual user but those who depend on drugs to get through the day," she said. "We have some federal funding to help those students but there is now a gap in that we have no more openings for treatment."
The agency representatives and county officials agreed that the coalition should not just be an idea place, but an action committee.
"I don't want us to set up a group of people that are just jawing about the problem," stated Milovich. "We need to make the programs to improve these situations successful and then we can move onto the next one. We will find the funds to run these types of things, but we need to be sure the programs that are being used are ones that work."
The meeting concluded with a commitment from the agencies and the commissioners to develop the structure to get things moving.