Alabama enacts new law to broaden access to mental health treatment for substance use disorders

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed a new law on Monday that is expected to aid in the treatment of substance use disorders.

The implementation of the Co-Occurring Treatment Law aims to streamline the process of providing assistance to individuals with mental health-related conditions, ensuring that they receive the necessary support before law enforcement intervention becomes necessary.

Representative Russell Bedsole, a law enforcement professional from Alabaster, played a crucial role in advocating for the bill’s passage. According to him, the legislation effectively incorporates substance use disorders into the broader context of mental health. This inclusion empowers patients to utilize funds from opioid settlements towards receiving the necessary treatment for their conditions.

“I have observed throughout my career that individuals facing mental health issues often resort to self-medication as a means of coping,” Bedsole pointed out. “Unfortunately, this has led to a dependency problem.”

Probate judges play a crucial role as the main advocates for patients who are involuntarily sent for treatment. According to Sonny Brasfield, the executive director for the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, the recent law now allows probate judges to assist in getting patients into facilities, even if they have been arrested.

According to Brasfield, this bill not only addresses the issue of transportation for individuals in need of treatment but also grants probate judges the authority to approach criminal judges and request a temporary suspension of charges. In this way, the person can receive the necessary treatment without hindrance.

Bedsole expressed his hopes that the act will effectively prevent the criminal justice system from becoming overburdened.

According to Bedsole, if individuals have committed a crime, the priority should be to safeguard the community. However, the goal is to provide them with mental health support instead of involving them in the criminal justice system.

According to Brasfield, the new law represents a positive initial measure in the quest to increase the number of beds in mental health facilities.

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