The Community Health and Senior Services Commission (CHSSC) recently reported to the Town Council, detailing deficiencies in the delivery of mental health and substance abuse services in Los Gatos. CHSSC’s possible next step, subject to council approval, will be to develop a roadmap to implement the report’s recommendations.
After submitting the report to the council, I read a long opinion piece in the New York Times, titled “One Year Inside A Radical New Approach to America’s Overdose Crisis.” The opinion piece followed the workings of a harm reduction program called “OnPoint.” OnPoint’s program includes a consumption room, where drug users may take their drugs under the supervision of trained workers, who may administer drugs such as Naloxone and other drug overdose treatments, to reverse the deleterious effects of a drug when an overdose occurs. The workers also collect used needles left on the streets, offer users warm clothing and hot meals, and provide short-term living arrangements. Their funding is limited, and they face hostile and vocal opponents who accuse them of promoting drug use. In addition, they must contend with federal law, which outlaws the consumption room program concept.
The New York Times article was painful to read since although the OnPoint program claims to have saved thousands of lives, the numerous drug users referenced in the article, live horrendous lives, sleeping in cold and windy alcoves in New York, where they are subject to rain and snow. They beg for money to support their habit and feed themselves. They develop terrible skin conditions and diseases. Many of them die despite the efforts of the OnPoint workers. My anguish was heightened by reading about the frequently gruesome experiences of the workers as they strive to save lives.
The pushback received from a vocal portion of the community in response to OnPoint’s work, took many forms, including citizens engaging in shouting matches with the OnPoint workers as the workers struggled on the streets and sidewalks of New York to revive users who are often on the brink of death from an overdose.
This community pushback alerted me to the need to be proactive in improving mental health and substance abuse treatment in Los Gatos. I am also mindful of the tumult the cannabis dispensary debate in our town created. Justifiably, our town residents worry about their safety and the safety of their children.
CHSSC’s recommendations for improving mental health and substance abuse services are numerous. Some of the more prominent ones include considering ways to make mental health and substance abuse programs better known, finding ways to optimize service provider assignments to leverage scarce resources, developing a physical location in Los Gatos to serve as a mental health resource center, developing programs that teach older adults how to navigate the mental health landscape and select a mental health provider, finding ways to structure financial partnerships with mental health service providers, seeking funding sources for pilot programs, expanding mental health outreach with an access point or satellite operation in Los Gatos, expanding outpatient therapy, and facilitating the development of peer-based support groups.
A recent New Yorker article titled “Talking to Ourselves” indicates that roughly one-fifth of American adults has a mental illness and an estimated one in 20 has what is considered a serious mental illness that seriously impairs their ability to live, work or relate to others. CHSSC’s report also highlights the severity of the problem by pointing to surveys showing that of those responding, 21% reported mental health challenges, about 30% of residents over age 60 live with depression, and 80% said they do not have access to quality mental health care.
Hopefully, given the gravity of the mental health and substance abuse problems, our community will recognize CHSSC’s recommendations as straightforward steps to ameliorate conditions, instead of concluding the recommendations are an attempt to push consumption room-type proposals or proposals to allow cannabis dispensaries in our town.