San Diego County Supervisors Commit $125 Million for Expanded Addiction Treatment

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Opioid tablets. Photo via Wikimeda Commons

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to ramp up the addiction treatment program for the county’s most vulnerable populations by expanding its network of providers, increasing available services and opening those services to more people.

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The county will now begin rolling out a Drug Medi-Cal Organized Delivery System, a state program that aims to provide a “continuum of care” for low-income residents facing addiction. The program, modeled after national evidence-based standards, is designed to address the systemic damage addiction inflicts on individuals, their families and their communities.

The plan will increase the county Behavioral Health Services addiction budget by $125 million to $179.6 million. The majority of that increase will be funded by Medi-Cal. The low-income health insurance provider currently funds 5.5 percent of the county’s addiction treatment budget. Under this new program, which begins July 1, it will fund 42.6 percent — or $76.5 million — of the total amount, according to county health officials.

Other funding comes from county dollars and a federal grant.

The move comes amid a rise in deaths attributed to addiction, which is closely linked to other mental illnesses and homelessness, county officials said.

The additional funding will expand the county’s existing provider network of case managers, counselors and residential recovery facilities and will expand capacity by 30 percent.

“With more tools in the toolbox and better connections between providers, this means clients will experience more effective services and a better chance at recovery,” said Alfredo Aguirre of the county Health and Human Services Agency.

County officials said the program is a dramatic overhaul of the way addiction is treated in San Diego County. It will be the first time that medication-assisted addiction treatment, such as the use of methadone, will be employed by the county, for example.

That point caused concern from Supervisors Kristin Gaspar and Dianne Jacob, who warned that such programs must be closely monitored and treatments finely tuned for each individual.

The program also calls for increased coordination between the justice and mental health systems, where those taken into custody will be evaluated for addiction and the results forwarded to a judge, who can consider whether to send that person to treatment.

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said her office has assigned someone as a full-time mental health and drug coordinator to assist with ensuring those who should be in treatment can gain access to it.

“San Diego is about to become a leader today in the state, and I would be so bold as to say across the entire country,” said Gaspar, the board chairwoman. “It’s significant.”

Contra Costa, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Francisco counties are among those that have launched similar programs.

—City News Service

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