Drug, alcohol program offers local treatment



High Plains Mental Health recently implemented a new substance-abuse treatment program.

The program, which began March 3, provides level one outpatient services to individuals with drug or alcohol problems, meaning those who are dependent on the substance to the point of hospitalization will not receive treatment from HPMH.

"If the person lives in the community and can function sufficiently, our services are appropriate," said Ken Loos, community prevention manager at HPMH. "Comparing (the treatment) to our mental health services, if the person is so depressed and is actively suicidal, then he or she would have to be hospitalized. It's a similar situation with substance abuse."

Loos said if the person is going through serious physical withdrawals, such as alcoholic seizures, he or she needs to seek medical attention before qualifying for the services offered at HPMH.

In order to be entered into the substance-abuse program, the person must be assessed to determine the level of needed care.

"We will treat them if they fit in level-one care," said Robert Yates, substance-abuse outpatient therapist. "If they fit somewhere else, we can refer them to the appropriate place."

After the person is admitted, the counselors will assist with drugs and alcohol education, find social support groups and seek safety groups for those with trauma as a result of a drug or alcohol problem.

The program, however, is not new to HPMH.

"We used to have substance-abuse providers," Loos said. "There were some changes in regulations from the state level partly because we cover such a large territory -- 20 counties in northwest Kansas.

It became difficult to provide those services. Now co-occuring mental health issues are the big issue."

Loos said many individuals will try to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 42 percent of people with a substance-abuse disorder have a co-occuring mental illness.

"They just want to feel more normal," he said. "For example, a young person may have a social anxiety disorder and drinks alcohol to feel more normal. Some others do it to control anger or fall asleep. It sometimes starts almost in an innocent way, but then because of the nature of substance abuse, it takes more and more of the substance to get the desired affect."

Yates said alcohol use is much higher in rural areas and quoted statistics from a 2003 study.

"Forty-nine percent of Kansas reported alcohol use in the past month," he said. "Twenty-two percent of Kansas reported binge alcohol use, and 41 percent reported binge alcohol use more than twice a week."

"Different parts of the country have their own idiosyncrasies."

Loos and Yates hope the addition of the program will allow more people with substance abuse problems to seek treatment.

"Only 8 percent of people with substance abuse problems seek treatment each year," Yates said.

For more information, call HPMH at (785) 628-2871.