Mental Illness Poses Unique Challenges to Drug Rehab Efforts

By Staff Writer

When Daniel first started seeing Susan Patrovi, an attending physician at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and the medical director of Homeless Healthcare Los Angeles, the signs of opiate addiction were plain to see. The Los Angeles Times reports that the man was withdrawn and homeless. Nothing that the physician tried seemed to help him.

It wasn’t until a later visit that Patrovi realized that she was not only battling addiction and homelessness in Daniel. She also needed to address deep-seated mental illness that, given the man’s other problems, had not been apparent before. He began using heroin as a means of self-medicating his depression.

The combination of problems is not unique to Daniel. Millions of Americans struggle with co-occurring conditions. The confluence of opiate addiction, mental illness and homelessness can make it extremely difficult for individuals to get the help they need. One condition often feeds the others, making recovery a difficult task.

The news source reports that after completing a drug rehab program and receiving psychiatric therapy, Daniel was able to beat his problems and is currently living drug-free. He is an example of what can be accomplished when individuals with co-occurring conditions receive the help they need. While there is much progress that can be made with these patients, Daniel unfortunately is more of an exception.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, at least three percent of the U.S. population has co-occurring disorders. However, the group estimates that only about 8 percent of these individuals are ever given the help they need to recover and lead a healthy life.

Experts say that individuals who struggle with both opiate addiction and mental illness need specialized substance abuse help. Treating either condition independently has a lesser chance of success.

A Chicago-based rehabilitation specialist said that the only way to help these people is to treat both conditions as different aspects of the same problem. An integrated approach that addresses a person’s mental issues while helping them detox may be the most effective way to go about beating the problems.

Despite the fact that so few individuals with co-occurring disorders receive this type of treatment, help may be coming. In July, a federal law went into effect that may make it easier for individuals to access mental health and addiction services.

The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act states that no health insurer may place annual or lifetime limits on the mental health and addiction benefits that are less favorable than limits placed on medical benefits.

The legislation could help millions of Americans who struggle with co-occurring conditions but have been unable to access the most effective treatments. The National Alliance on Mental Health has said that about half of all those who are insured have limited access to mental health and addiction treatment benefits. The law could help address this.

Andrew Sperling, the director of federal legislative advocacy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told Kaiser Health News that early regulations in this field were inadequate and shut out many individuals. However, the new law will allow many to seek the mental health and substance abuse help they need.

While federal laws can make drug rehab more accessible for those with mental illness, affected individuals must first accept that they have a problem and express a desire for substance abuse help. Unfortunately, these addicts may have a more difficult time reaching this point. They may have to continue to rely on the help of dedicated rehab workers in order to get clean.