Governor’s budget plan threatens Summit County’s Drug Court, other mental health programs |

Governor’s budget plan threatens Summit County’s Drug Court, other mental health programs

Gov. Gary Herbert’s budget plan for 2020 shows a 60 percent reduction in funding for substance use treatment in the state, a proposal that could negatively impact critical Summit County programs such as Drug Court, says Aaron Newman, Summit County’s mental health and substance abuse coordinator.

The $15 million hit to funds appropriated for treatment is spread across three different areas, affecting general mental health and specific programs such as the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. The state’s legislative session kicks off on Monday, and lawmakers are tasked with passing the final budget.

“What this means for Summit County is that we won’t receive funding for those programs or it will be greatly reduced,” Newman said. “That’s a loss to our community. All of these cuts equals about a 55 percent reduction in our substance use disorder funding.”

The reduction in funding would outright eliminate some initiatives, such as the Drug Offender Reform Act program (DORA), Newman said. While Summit County does not currently participate in the program, Newman said officials were in the process of applying for funds for the upcoming year.

Another critical program that could see a significant reduction in funding in the county is Drug Court, which allows non-violent offenders to participate in an intense rehabilitation program in lieu of serving jail time. It has been operating in Summit County since 2006. Similar Drug Courts operate in various counties across the state. Participation in the DORA program would have allowed the county to expand Drug Court to individuals facing misdemeanor charges instead of just those with felonies.

Margaret Olson, Summit County attorney, has attended Drug Court each week since she became county attorney. She said she is personally invested in its participants and the state’s proposal to cut funds would be a “devastating blow.”

“The treatment team provides essential support (i.e. evaluations, group therapy, individual therapy, drug testing, medication/medical assistance, case management and, quite frankly, a human connection) for our participants,” she said in an email. “Summit County is committed to fighting for this funding and will be lobbying at the legislature so our elected state representatives understand the dangerous and very human cost of these cuts.”

The benefits of the Drug Court program extend beyond “not just putting people in jail and running up a tab for taxpayers,” Newman said. He said it reduces recidivism as the individuals who complete the program are reintegrated back into society and often aren’t encountered in the court system again.

“These people have violated a (law) because of an addiction, and we help them combat that addiction so they can hold down employment, a house and return to their families,” he said. “That is the biggest win when you have community members that are able to do that.”

Newman said the Drug Court program, as well as the county’s other programs that address mental health and substance abuse that are threatened under Herbert’s budget plan directly effect the community’s broader goals for improving services to individuals struggling with those issues.

“That ties into our goal of support for recovery and re-integration,” he said. “That is why this is so critical. We knew we needed to do things beyond Drug Court, but we also realize that, when it comes to substance abuse, our Drug Court program is an incredible model.”

If the funding is cut, Newman said the responsibility, in theory, could fall back on the county. The Medicaid expansion voters approved under Proposition 3 could also potentially offset the reductions. However, there are several issues that could prevent that, including the U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor’s recent ruling that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.

Several state associations are advocating for the state to maintain the current funding levels for mental health and substance abuse programs, including the state’s Behavioral Health Planning and Advisory Council, Sheriff’s Association, Civil Legislative Action Committee and the Utah Association of Counties.

Summit County’s health officials, along with representatives from the 13 health districts across the state, are planning to attend a meeting with the House’s Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday to address the topic.

“Tuesday is the big day for us,” Newman said. “We want to help carry this message to our state representatives. We just had three people graduate from Drug Court last Monday. We see this as such an important program that is really integral to our services here. We want to see what we can do to help.”

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