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New funding to help detox programs for homeless

Shelter, nonprofit working with county to increase access
By: Michael Mott, Reporter
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The last steps are coming into place to help people at the Right Hand Auburn homeless shelter with drug problems detox and move on to the next stage of their life, clean and sober.

Project GO, a nonprofit and Placer County’s community action agency, will contribute $30,000 to Volunteers of America to help transport homeless people to drug screenings, fill gaps in service identified with Placer County’s Health and Human Services and cover the cost of detoxification medications if necessary.

For example, if someone decides to get clean, Volunteers of America staff will take them to a drug screening for detox evaluation. If they aren’t on MediCal, staff will work with them to get on MediCal, or use the funding to purchase detox medications or programs.

The idea for the pilot program formed after a meeting around homelessness and affordable housing several months ago. Shelter director Jason Smith spoke about issues he found getting shelter residents into drug treatment programs and drug screenings.

“The night before, he had driven to Lodi to help someone get to a detox program. I thought that was crazy and found out we had this funding for homelessness the next day,” said Lynda Timbers, executive director of Project GO, explaining the project’s origin.

That wasn’t the first time. Smith brings people to recovery services if they’re having trouble, including likely to Montereythis week. “I know there’s a lot of people out there using heroin or taking pills since they’re afraid of the withdrawal,” Smith said later. “Detox is the starting line for any kind of recovery.”

The program’s funding stems from Project GO’s status as a community action agency, which receive federal funding to address issues of poverty across the country.

The Roseville-based nonprofit was selected by Placer County as that agency three years ago, after the county served the role for decades. That means providing funding for various programs, including community gardens, senior meal services, assisting with weatherization and utility costs, and more.

This year, the California Department of Community Services & Development distributed extra funds to community action agencies statewide, leading to the extra $30,000 this year.

According to California’s Department of Public Health, ER visits for overdoses rose from 40 to 61 from 2006 to 2013 in Placer County. Overdoserelated hospitalizations rose from 22 to 62.

From 2009-2013, the number of deaths by opioids like heroin, methadone and other pharmaceuticals and narcotics has nearly doubled in Placer County, from 7 to 13, according to the county. Smith believes the statistics will get worse.

“Hopefully this makes the starting line more accessible,” he said.

Filling gaps

Placer County offers drug screenings five days a week, the starting point for anyone in the county wanting to separate themselves from heroin or other addictive substances.

If someone is approved for detox, the county offers a list of contracted detox facilities, like Community Recovery Resources in Auburn, which offers 27 beds. Treatment programs vary by need, whether inpatient, outpatient or detox.

If there aren’t enough beds, they must call daily to reserve a spot before taking any detox drugs, since the risk of overdose while detoxing is high. They also purchase detox medications, either through their primary physician with insurance or MediCal, or with cash from an emergency room.

After hearing about the funding, Smith began speaking with Placer County’s substance abuse services to see how the shelter could assist and fill in gaps with the newly found funding. He said they wanted to give back to the county and help addicts get treatment as soon as possible.

Maureen Bauman, director of the Adult System of Care, said she was glad the program would help people get the care they need.

“We really want to fill in gaps to see where we can help people get into services to be more successful,” Baumann said. “It’s a work in progress, to see where there’s assistance needed to help people get into treatment.”

Smith plans to use a van to transport people to Roseville if they want to get clean now, but can’t wait until the next Auburn screening. People who want a mental health check-up may also come along as well.

His team will also pay for detox medications if MediCal won’t cover them or if they’re otherwise inaccessible. Bauman said MediCal usually did, but welcomed the funding if it helps get someone the help they need. The Adult System of Care is also working on joining a statewide plan to fund more residential stays and detox medicines through MediCal, the number of patients of which has risen from 25,000 to 60,000 people since the Affordable Care Act.

If all of the County’s contracted facilities are full, Smith’s group will reach out to others. The county typically pays for residential stays, but Smith said they could use the funding for that too if the facility was not contracted with the county.

That leg work is necessary, Smith said, since addicts may not be in the right state of mind to call around themselves, especially if homeless.

Smith speaks and writes often on addiction as a former addict himself. He remembered the feeling of wanting to detox but not being sure where to go or how to make it happen.

“For me, it’s a little bit personal. This is a positive step in the right direction,” he said.

Bauman spoke approvingly of Dr. David Mee-Lee’s presentation in July, an addiction specialist who explained a new criteria for addiction by the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

After four years of study by over 80 experts in the field, addiction was redefined as a disease that affects the circuitry of the brain, leading to behavior that overrides health. Impulse control and judgment is impaired. Addiction was framed as a chronic disease needing treatment.

Timbers said the project’s funding could be used through next May, and her board was already looking to fund the program with more funding after that.

The nonprofit can choose what needs they work to meet with a flexible funding program. In a couple months, the organization’s annual public hearing will take place so anyone may weigh in on what barriers of poverty should be worked to remove in Placer County.

Timbers was optimistic.

“Society as a whole needs to come around to that we have preconceived notions of who uses drugs, and why. That they’re addicts and slimy, or whatever. But it can be anybody,” she said. “It can be me tomorrow. Let’s get out of that mindset and focus on how we can fix the situation.”