As state and local governments confront problems with addiction to opioids and other drugs and alcohol, they at the same time fight a lack of adequate and well-directed funding to find proper treatment for those with substance abuse disorders.
There’s a growing need and lack of beds in the region, say two mental health advocates who met with The Herald Editorial Board on Monday. Joe Valentine is executive director for the North Sound Behavioral Health Organization, which provides mental health treatment and services in Snohomish, Island, Skagit, Whatcom and San Juan counties. Cammy Hart-Anderson is division manager for Snohomish County Human Services on mental health issues.
About 600 people die each year from opioid overdoses in the state, with the largest increase in those deaths among younger adults. Snohomish County, with 11 percent of the state’s population, saw 20 percent of the state’s opioid overdose deaths in 2013.
Even when those suffering with addictions can get into treatment, Valentine said, as many as 8 in 10 relapse after leaving a detox program because of a lack of beds offering further treatment, housing and recovery support.
To limit the chance for relapse — and make the best use of the funds being spent on addiction treatment — North Sound Mental Health wants to build up its regional recovery system, increasing access to outpatient treatment for substance abuse, including detox beds; medication treatment, such as methadone and Suboxone; and residential programs and recovery coaches.
Too often, a lack of detox and treatment beds have meant that patients have had to be sent out of the region to facilities in southwest Washington or near Spokane, Hart-Anderson said, away from supports in their own communities.
Budget proposals from the governor and House and Senate have aligned with the idea to offer more treatment within communities, closer to patients’ homes and support systems. But there are differences between what the House and Senate have each outlined in their capital budget proposals to increase access to treatment.
Earlier this year, North Sound Behavioral Health outlined $32.5 million in projects in its budget request to lawmakers for the region that would increase the number of in-patient beds for treating substance abuse and other behavioral health needs.
Among the agency’s proposals were two 16-bed units to be built within a remodeled Denney Juvenile Justice Center and similar facilities based in Bellingham.
The Denney center, Hart-Anderson said, no longer needs as much of the space for which it was built. Changes to the state’s juvenile justice practices have reduced its population from as many as 130 down to 10 to 15, she said. Two 16-bed treatment facilities — one as a detox center and a second for follow-up treatment — can be built there that fully segregate Denney’s juveniles from the adults in treatment.
Both the House and Senate budgets have included money for improving access to behavioral health, but the House budget comes closest to North Sound’s request, earmarking $5 million each for three 16-bed units in Everett and Bellingham and $2 million for a detox facility in Bellingham. The House capital budget also provides $20 million in grants for 64 treatment beds throughout the state and another $15 million for 48 psychiatric treatment beds that would be used to divert or transition patients from the two state hospitals.
The Senate budget outlines no specific funds for North Sound, but it would be eligible for grant funding that budget provides.
Valentine said his organization has heard support from the county’s legislative delegation in both chambers. And its projects, such as at Denney, are “shovel-ready” and could progress as soon as funding is secured, which should also argue in its favor.
The capital budget, which allocates state spending on schools, colleges, parks and other public facilities, typically isn’t adopted until after the larger operating budget has passed both House and Senate. But talks on the capital budget don’t have to wait for the more contentious operating budget to conclude.
With lawmakers having already acknowledged the need to provide better access within communities to mental health and substance abuse programs, the state’s capital budget should fund the projects on which North Sound is now ready to move forward.