Breaking Behavioral Health Barriers Behind Bars and in the Communities

Attendees of the MACo Winter Conference session, Who’s Falling Through the Cracks: Addressing Gaps in Behavioral Health Services, heard frank discussions from panelists on the scope of behavioral health issues in local communities as well as what is being done what more is needed to close gaps in addressing behavioral health issues. Much of the discussion centered around the criminal justice population.

Dan Martin
Dan Martin

Dan Martin Senior Director of Public Policy for the Mental Health Association of Maryland (MHAMD) set the stage by providing some statistics about mental illness and substance use disorders (SUDs) in Maryland. For instance:

  • 70% of the local detention center population is living with a substance use disorder, and 35% of those individuals have a co-occurring mental illness
  • Maryland overdose deaths increased in 2017 for the 7th year in a row, reaching an all-time high of 2,282
  • Over 260,000 children and adults now use and depend on the state’s public behavioral health system

Martin also discussed the work of MHA and coalition partners such as the Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice Partnership to advocate for and advance changes for the treatment of individuals with mental illnesses who become involved with the criminal justice system.

Dr Branch Falling Through the Cracks
Dr. Gregory Branch

Director of the Baltimore County Department of Health and Social Services, Dr. Gregory Branch, started his presentation with an explanation of what substance use disorders (SUDs) are as defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine: “a chronic disorder that affects the brain and replaces HEALTHY behaviors (eating, sleeping, social interaction) with ADDICTIVE behaviors (despite risks and consequences)” and how SUDs impact the body and the mind. From there he highlighted three tools for treating SUDs:

  • Residential Treatment
  • Recovery Housing
  • RX Assisted Treatment (MAT)
Doug Devenyns
Douglas Devenyns

Dr. Branch rounded out his presentation with a look at the partnership between the county health department and the county detention center to provide medication assisted treatment (MAT) to individuals incarcerated in the county detention center.

Douglas Devenyns the Director of Talbot County Department of Corrections concluded the panel presentation. Devenyns focused in on how jails have become the biggest providers of behavioral health services as the population of individuals with mental illness and SUDs in jails has grown exponentially. He stressed the need to get these individuals into treatment rather than incarceration. In addition to providing examples of services provided in his jails and others around the state, Devenyns discussed the gap that often arises when individuals leave the jail and now need access to services within the community to continue their treatment.

The session was moderated by Delegate Erek Barron and held Thursday, January 3, 2019.

The MACo Winter Conference was held January 2-4, 2019 at the Hyatt in Cambridge, Maryland. This year’s theme was, “Charting the Course.”

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