The county will begin offering substance abuse treatment at the San Diego County Psychiatric Hospital in May, it was announced Wednesday.
Supervisors Nathan Fletcher and Greg Cox joined City Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell and Dr. Luke Bergman, the county’s Behavioral Health Services director, to announce the Accelerated Connections to Treatment program.
“We are taking bold action and changing how we operate to ensure better outcomes for the patients who visit our psychiatric hospital,” Fletcher said. “By taking the unprecedented step of co-locating mental health and substance abuse treatment, we are better equipped to provide vital services to a hard-to-reach group of people, many of whom are experiencing chronic homelessness. This is a better way to connect people to the treatment they need.”
Co-locating substance abuse and psychiatric services allows people needing drug or alcohol rehabilitation and mental health treatment to get help for both in tandem, rather than having to track down someone without a fixed address for further treatment.
“Difficult problems require creative solutions, and this is a program that offers a new way of helping this population of homeless individuals,” Cox said. “This is a great start and we will continue to find ways to enhance the system of care for those suffering with substance use disorders.”
According to the county numbers, around 500 people each month are brought to the county hospital in the Midway neighborhood without being admitted. Many of those individuals’ symptoms are mistaken by law enforcement or other agencies as psychotic, when in fact other drugs — such as methamphetamine — have side-effects mimicking psychosis. The patients are often given a referral for a local facility without any further treatment or follow-up.
The new program will link patients directly to providers and treatments, which is expected to cut down on recidivism, county officials said.
“With the county stepping up to invest in programs such as ACTT, it not only has positive impacts in the Midway District but also with those seeking help in all our communities,” Campbell said.
Under the four-step program:
— an addiction specialist will engage participants with substance abuse disorders and encourage them to participate in the program, establishing trust and providing support;
— a team of medical professionals, drug counselors and peer support specialists will help the patient manage withdrawal on-site at the hospital;
— the team will assess the patient after detox to determine the next step of ongoing care and help them make connections to service providers; and
— the patient’s addiction specialist will provide ongoing care and continue to be a source of support.
“San Diego emergency personnel spend thousands of hours each year responding to homeless individuals experiencing an overdose or psychiatric crisis. We have to focus on the underlying mental health and addiction issues that lead to repeated emergency room visits,” San Diego Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer said.