In our opinion: Compassionate and effective solutions to emulate in the opioid crisis

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Carbon County Commissioner Jake Mellor poses for a portrait outside of the commission chambers in Price on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. Carbon County is facing an opioid epidemic.

Efforts to address homelessness in Utah and the high rate of opioid drug abuse have had the beneficial effect of bringing community organizations together to foster greater awareness and better responses to the problem of untreated mental illness.

And now there are solutions worthy of emulating.

A campaign in Carbon County to create an integrated and holistic approach to a crisis in abuse of opioid-based narcotics, focusing on detection, diagnosis and treatment, is underway.

In Utah County, authorities are training law enforcement officers to deal with people suffering from mental illness who come in contact with police.

And in Seattle, the LEAD program — Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion — gets addicts off the street and into a place to live with long-term case management. It’s a program, highlighted in the Deseret News last month, that is built on patience and understanding of the individual.

These examples recognize mental illness as an underlying contributor to the homelessness problem, as well as a potential cause or result of addiction to opioid drugs. The program in Carbon County is praiseworthy for its scope and inclusiveness in aligning an array of community groups, including law enforcement, clergy, social services agencies, health care providers and volunteer organizations.

The campaign is referred to as the CARE Coalition, for Carbon Addiction Reduction and Elimination. It arose out of consternation over the county having the state’s highest rate of prescription overdose deaths. “In these small communities, every one of us knows someone who is affected by it,” says Carbon County Commissioner Jake Mellor.

An important part of the campaign is recognition that mental illness and substance abuse disorders are often “co-occurring” conditions best addressed in tandem. A research study by the nonprofit Kaiser Health News shows that adults with a mental illness receive half of all opioid-based prescriptions. In Carbon County,…

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