Calls are getting louder in Baton Rouge for a new facility to treat people in a mental health or addiction crisis, but the decision ultimately lies with voters.
"My son wasn't saved, but somebody else's son or daughter can be saved by them getting immediate help, going to a place that this is what they do," said Gwen Knox, whose son, Brian, died of a heroin overdose.
The place Knox mentioned exists only in theory. It's called the Bridge Center, and she wishes it would have been around before her son passed away.
"When we talk about the Bridge Center, it's really a time when people are in crisis, or they feel that they're kind of losing control," explained Dr. Jan Kasofsky, executive director of Capital Area Human Services District.
The proposed 30-bed facility is described as an "urgent care" for people with mental or addiction problems. It's a safe place to go instead of jail or the emergency room, with an average stay of less than 24 hours. Counselors could then direct patients to other facilities and track their progress over the next two months.
"In 2012, I had 28 overdoses related to opioids," EBR coroner Dr. Beau Clark told the metro council this week. "That number last year grew to 111."
The council agreed to again let voters decide whether or not to build the Bridge Center through a 10-year 1.5 mills property tax. Proponents say the facility would actually save taxpayer money.
"Like most things, if we don't do it up front, we'll pay a lot later on," Kasofsky explained. "And to incarcerate somebody costs a lot more than if we give them the care that they need that they can stay in the community."
The staff at Capital Area Human Services knows the epidemic all too well. Besides supplying hundreds of doses of Narcan (naloxone) to reverse overdoses, the state agency now offers monthly Vivitrol injections to help with recovery. "Vivitrol is an opioid blocker, and so it just binds to receptors in the brain, and it blocks the effects of opioids," said Dr. Jan Laughinghouse, CAHS director of addiction recovery services.
Vivitrol is proven to reduce opioid and alcohol cravings and prevent relapse, but it's not available in parish prison. A facility like the Bridge Center, proponents say, will help guide addicts to the care they need.
"People are really needing to be in safe places where they can get a medical detox," Laughinghouse said.
She explained the Bridge Center would not offer detox services, but staff could transfer patients to detox facilities after determining their needs.
Since her son's death, Knox has started support groups for parents of addicts. She hopes voters see the value in treating mental illness and addiction before it turns deadly.
"With all of us giving a little, that would be able to help so many, it is so worth passing this," Knox said.
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