By Susan Millender, GPS Executive Director

During the 2014 King County Mental Health & Substance Abuse Legislative Forum, the integration of behavioral health involuntary treatment laws (ITA) and the launching of a 16-bed secure detoxification facility was highlighted as a request and legislative priority.  Why is this request an important one to our families?  “Unless you’ve been there, you can’t imagine what it’s like to watch helplessly as someone you love descends into addiction,” David Sheff writes in his book Clean, Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy.  Sheff’s lived experience was chronicled in his first book A Beautiful Boy which dissected his son’s addiction to methamphetamine.  In Clean he reflects that the transformation to addiction defies logic “until you understand that your loved one is gravely ill with a brain disease that’s debilitating, chronic, progressive, and, if left untreated, often fatal.

Many parents are struggling with their own addiction challenges, creating even more unimaginably adverse environments for children who depend on them.

2016 is the onset of behavioral health integration and, as we move toward integration, now is the time to develop an involuntary commitment law that addressees risk stemming from both mental health and substance abuse. Doing so would help to stop the detention of individuals with substance abuse disorders in the mental health system. Having an integrated commitment framework and a secure detoxification facility to serve such individuals would provide better outcomes for them.

The model has already been created. A successful 2006-09 integrated commitment pilot included secure detoxification facilities.  Sites were established in two counties for the Integrated Crisis Response (ICR) pilot program. Designated Crisis Responders (DCRs) at the pilot sites had authority to detain individuals up to 72 hours if there was a likelihood of serious harm or if a person was gravely disabled as a result of a mental disorder, substance abuse disorder, or both.  The pilot’s secure detoxification facilities served individuals detained under this law.
A rigorous evaluation of the ICR detoxification facility found that its use was correlated with fewer admissions to inpatient psychiatric and substance abuse treatment, more rapid entry into substance abuse treatment, and higher rates of employment.

Clearly, a more comprehensive response to crisis results in better outcomes. An integrated commitment statute would allow designated mental health professionals (DMHPs) and Designated Crisis Responders (DCRs) to respond more comprehensively to clients’ overall risk and vulnerability, especially if paired with new resources such as a secure detoxification facility.

Join us in Olympia on Monday, March 23rd, as we meet with our policymakers, tell our stories and make known the mental health and substance abuse needs of King County children, youth and parents.