North Carolina is facing a behavioral health crisis, from child welfare to recidivism to suicide. Here are the significant stories touching on these issues within the state.
North Carolina Child Welfare System in Trouble
North Carolina’s child welfare system is in trouble and could see “a massive class-action lawsuit,” according to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Children’s behavioral health needs are often unmet. Local offices and emergency rooms have had to house children with behavioral health needs because there are not enough qualified beds in psychiatric residential treatment facilities.
County and local child welfare offices are struggling with lack of funding and staff vacancies. Some county courts have inaccurate or missing information, complicating fostering, placements, and custody cases. Earlier this year, USA Today found that more than 1,000 North Carolina children were placed in psychiatric residential treatment facilities during the 2020-21 fiscal year, at a cost of $423 per day. However, there is insufficient evidence that these facilities are effective for children.
Medication-Assisted Treatment in NC Jails May Increase
Implementation of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) in North Carolina jails has been low, but that may be changing soon with new guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). In addition, North Carolina lawmakers allocated $2 million in the 2021 state budget to help local jails start or expand MAT programs.
The DOJ guidance says that the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against individuals with opioid use disorder who are in treatment or recovery, including those within correctional facilities. If jails do not provide medications that allow inmates to continue treatment, it could leave them open to lawsuits. Jails also should not have a blanket policy that requires people to receive a specific form of medication, instead of receiving individualized medical care.
Individualized Plans Could Cut Recidivism
Individualized programs could help reduce recidivism among former inmates in North Carolina, which currently ranges from 20 percent to 49 percent. The Alliance of Disability Advocates, with funding from the North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities, creates individualized plans to help former inmates with intellectual and developmental disabilities transition to life after prison.
Since April 2020, the initiative has served 125 individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities from 13 state prisons, with an 86 percent success rate. The program’s grant funding expires next year, so staff are seeking $300,000 annually from other sources.
North Carolina Seeks to Address Suicide
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has released a coordinated state action plan to reduce suicides, one of the top five leading causes of death for people ages 10-65 in the state. The department plans to partner with other state agencies, county and local social services, hospitals, community non-profits, private agencies, and health providers.
Increasing treatment and support services to suicide survivors
Emphasis on safe storage of use firearms or medications
Stronger crisis intervention and monitoring
The plan has received support from a suicide prevention grant from the CDC.
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