To mark Recovery Month in Minnesota, I want to tell you about substance use disorder treatment reform, a website, and a mother from southern Minnesota.
Let’s start with a hypothetical mother from southern Minnesota. Two years ago after much discussion, she finally gets her son, a heroin user, to agree to treatment. The mother, who knows the system, called the county for an assessment — which is exactly what she is supposed to do, and her son made an appointment. Only problem: the appointment is 20 days away.
While this is hypothetical, it is also common. It can take up to 20 days to get an assessment.
Substance use disorder is an illness. We need to get people into treatment as soon as possible; people who need treatment cannot wait. Telling someone to wait 20 days for treatment is like telling someone with a broken leg to wait 20 days to get it set.
What this mother and her son need is direct access to treatment. “Direct access to treatment” means that people receiving publicly funded treatment services will be able to go directly to a treatment provider for an assessment if they do not choose to have a county-based assessment.
On August 14, the federal government approved our plans for making direct access to treatment possible. In the near future, individuals will be able to receive a comprehensive assessment at a treatment program by a licensed professional, offering the opportunity to be connected right into care. If this were the system when the woman’s son wanted treatment, he would have gone to a treatment provider who could have admitted him right way. The new system will be rolling out over the next two years. The current assessment system will remain in place until July, 2020, as direct access is phased in and we create the systems to make it work.
Which brings me to the website.
How do you know where to go for treatment? And if you find a treatment program, will there be space available? If you are new to treatment, what are your options?
Fast-Tracker is now available to help. Fast-Tracker is an online, searchable database of substance use disorder treatment programs and resources. Best of all, Fast-Tracker will tell you real-time availability of services. This means if a person goes to a treatment provider they can not only get an assessment immediately and admit the same day, the person can know whether or not there’s space for them before they arrive.
The website is designed for professionals working with a person seeking treatment. For example, a primary care doctor may use it to help a patient get the treatment they need. However, it’s also an easy and intuitive website for anyone to use, whether it’s a family member, friend, or the person seeking treatment themselves. You can take a look at Fast-Tracker at www.fast-trackermn.org. Fast-Tracker is managed by the Minnesota Mental Health Community Foundation and funded in part by our Strategic Response to Opioids grant from the federal government.
All these efforts are an important step in reforming the state’s substance use disorder treatment system, an effort that has been underway since 2012. In addition to direct access and Fast-Tracker, two other important improvements will roll out. “Peer support services” creates a paraprofessional position for people with personal experience with substance use disorder. “Treatment coordination” connects and coordinates a complete range of services for the person in treatment, such as primary care and mental health services. In the past these two services were not available through public dollars, other than through special grants.
We’ve come a long way together as a state to start to make the substance use disorder treatment system one that is fast, efficient, and focused on the person. Yet, we still have a lot of work to do. We need more services all across the state. We need more people to become licensed alcohol and drug counselors, peer support specialists, and other direct service workers. And we need people to stay informed. Go to www.mn.gov/dhs/recovery and click on “What’s New.” There you’ll find a place to sign up for regular news about alcohol, drug and other addictions.
Together, as state and local governments, providers, and concerned citizens, we must keep up the hard work to make sure there are no more heartbroken mothers and fathers and that everyone has access to the treatment and supports that they need.
Emily Piper is the commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Human Services. People interested in treatment can find treatment programs and information about availability at the Fast Tracker website (www.fast-trackermn.org).