Mental Health struggles to keep up with drug rehab demand
by Mindy Aguon
Guam - The war on drugs isn't just being fought on the streets by local and federal authorities, but also in the court system and in treatment programs offered by the government and private entities. But there just aren't enough services right now to combat the problem.
The Adult Drug Court and various programs in the community are doing the best they can to treat all those with drug addiction but Mental Health's Clinical Services Division's Substance Abuse Program Supervisor Don Sabang admits they can't keep up with the demand. He told KUAM News, "We're having a lot of referrals from different organizations in our community, from private companies from other GovGuam agencies, churches, our biggest referral has been the court."
While Sabang couldn't say just how many people are waiting for treatment, he did say there's a significant backlog. "If a person was to walk in today the first thing they'll get is an appointment, and right now the earliest they can get an appointment is October," he said.
And for Adult Drug Court Judge Michael Bordallo, it's a tough situation for the many defendants who come through his courtroom, especially those who are heavily addicted and need treatment immediately. "You can't get into the Lighthouse Recovery Center unless you get a referral from mental health and you can't get that referral unless they do an assessment," he explained. "So if I want to get you into lighthouse recovery next week so you can start inpatient treatment, I can't because your appointment is in October."
And for those who can't get treatment right away, most, Bordallo says will end up running away from the system. "Mental Health, I think right now, is overwhelmed; we're all kind of in the same situation. Until they're able to get sufficient resources," he said.
Sabang stresses that despite the waiting list, mental health does handle each individual needing drug treatment on a case-by-case basis. "I want to make this clear is that we have a triage so when a person walks in, we're gonna entertain every person that walks in and do what we call screening, we ask a bunch of questions and depending on their response, we may have to provide services right away," he said.
Judge Bordallo says the Adult Drug Court allows them to treat between 90 and 100 people through an intensive, heavily supervised program, but not everyone is accepted. "The incentive of getting into the Adult Drug Court is it's a shorter period of supervision, but it's a more intense supervision," he said. "We have weekly hearings, we have certain things you must do. You must attend so many N/A meetings you must go to group counseling once a week under the supervision of ADC and do all these things."
Even with the bottlenecks in the system, the judge has seen success with the Therapeutic Court on Guam, even surpassing national statistics and helping people stay sober, one day at a time. He's hoping the Department of Corrections' Residential Substance Abuse Treatment Program can be offered at an inmate's pace rather than having to wait six months to get into the program.
Additionally, he says the community can help by giving recovering drug addicts a second chance, concluding by saying, "We can work with Mental Health, even as backed up as they are, to help to assist and provide treatment, but in terms of what keeps them clean and sober the reality is number one jobs."