After getting its feet on the ground and having had a couple years to organize, Substance Abuse Connect (SAC), is reporting to the community its success and impact as an oversight agency that facilitates communication, organization and collaboration among the law enforcement, health care agencies and schools in the county that deal with people struggling through drug addiction and mental health issues.

Behavioral health has in the past emerged as the community’s  No. 1  health problem, and it will again, proclaims SAC.

Several of the community leaders who serve on its Board spoke about its achievements over the past year at a recent press conference.  County Commissioner Don Jones commented that “SAC has been doing a great job.” The program is helping the county to know how effectively the county’s $1.2 million mill levy is being spent and how it is impacting the community and the jail. A primary purpose of the mill levy was to reduce recidivism in the jail. “It is important to have the data,” said Jones, “This is the first report and they will continue to build on that report.”

The county contributes part of the mill levy revenues to help support SAC. A SAC written report states, “Our financial investment in the backbone of Substance Abuse Connect has yielded us a 20x return on our investment and resulted in multiple successful pilot projects that have decreased re-arrests and moved frequent utilizers of behavioral health services to stability.”

SAC’s efforts include education campaigns, revamping the behavioral health crisis system, establishment of a Crisis Line (988), a Mobile Crisis Response Team, treatment for jail inmates.

Police Chief Rich St. John talked about the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) saying it has had a great impact on the number of homeless people in Billings. Team members ride with officers so that when they encounter a situation in which a homeless person is in need of assistance they can hand them off to the team which can direct the individual to the appropriate needed services.

St. John said that 170 clients have been assisted by HOT of which 71 percent have received recovery housing. “That was not happening a year ago,” he said.

The Community Crisis Prevention has helped decrease administrative time at the jail and at the hospital and for the criminal justice system, and over 1000 cases have been diverted from jail.

Tracy Neary, Vice President Human Resources & Mission Integration at St. Vincent Healthcare, explained that they have been able to give behavioral support for clients in a more timely way, rather than having to struggle to provide care in an emergency situation in which people “too often end up in a critical health situation.”

The call center mobile crisis unit provides support when crisis stabilization is needed. She said they have diverted 2300 people from hospitalization and into more appropriate care.

School District 2 Superintendent Greg Upham said that the issues that Substance Abuse Connect deals with “is not a police issue but a community issue.” It’s not necessary to stay in situations the community currently finds itself, said Upham, adding, “We have to say it out loud, we are in a war.” He said that in his 36 years in education he has never seen such “normalization of being altered.” “There is always a pressure to be like someone else….a middle schooler trying to say ‘no’ – they need our support. We have to continue to do what we are doing. We need to do a better job.” He said that he believes that parents and grandparents, etc. do not fully appreciate the impacts of social media on youngsters.

Another spokesperson said that Substance Abuse Connect is important “but it is going to take the whole community.”

SAC has helped facilitate a community wide education program among youth, parents, coaches, and medical providers, to raise awareness about increased opioid addition. It’s involved a social media campaign with RiverStone Health that highlights protective factors and heathy alternatives to alcohol and drug use.

SAC organized a live Facebook virtual “ask a therapist” program in partnership with Suicide Prevention Coalition, RiverStone, Billings School District and the Mental Health Center through which, in three events, they reached 227 attendees.

Another similar partnership established the School Based and Clinical Program, which also focused on the classroom and children.

Still, another program aimed at expectant and new parents, called Healthy Spark, in collaboration with St. Vincent Healthcare, Midwifery Clinic, RiverStone Health, Rimrock and GOMO Health, provides informational resources and support connections and has had 282 enrollees.

A program aimed at providing probationer and parole clients with behavioral health support that reduces recidivism at the jail has resulted in no re-arrests for 81 percent of the 160 individuals referred to the program, and 20 percent reduction in unemployment. More than half of the clients had primary addiction to meth.

Another drug-related re-arrest reduction program, Recovery Pathways had 362 enrollments also increased employment and decreased re-arrests.


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