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Pay now or pay later: Rock County Human Services asking for more drug treatment money

By Catherine W. Idzerda
August 12, 2015

JANESVILLE—Local law enforcement officials, judges and prosecutors dealing with the effects of heroin in Rock County agree: Providing treatment is cheaper than providing a jail cell.

But treatment means money up front.

On Thursday, the Rock County Human Services Department will ask the county board for nearly $90,000 to fund a new position and continue services for those who have started treatment.

The request also is a testimony to the extent of the heroin problem and the outreach work done by law enforcement and human services staff, said Charmian Klyve, director of human services.

Heroin use has been labeled an “epidemic” in Rock County. Police say it's a prime driver for petty crimes such as shoplifting and theft.

In 2014, 30 people overdosed on heroin in Janesville alone. Five of them died.

In the past several years, human services has worked to improve services by creating walk-in clinics were people can be screened immediately and by working with the criminal justice system to find treatment alternative programs.

“It's part of a strategic effort county-wide to improve access to care,” said Kathleen Flanagan, manager for the county's mental health and alcohol and other drug abuse division. “It's a more cost effective strategy to provide treatment.”

The human services department has already spent the $225,000 it budgeted for alcohol and other drug treatment this year.

In addition, Janesville Psychiatric Services, which is under contract to provide suboxone treatment to addicts, is at capacity. Suboxone is a highly effective but expensive treatment for heroin and opioid addictions. It costs the county about $640 per month per patient. Since the beginning of 2014, 82 people have received treatment. This year, about 32 people have gone through treatment.

If approved, most of the new money would be used to hire a case manager specializing in alcohol and other drugs. The case manager would provide “immediate support and stabilization services” to people waiting to get into treatment.

In addition, the case manager would help clients find other payment sources for treatment, such as Medicaid or insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

The case manager also would work with people such as Janesville police officer Brian Foster.

Foster started a program called DROP, which stands for death, rehab or prison. Foster keeps tabs on the heroin addicts and those who are in recovery. The case manager would be another tool to get addicts help.

“It's a great example of cross-system collaboration,” said Flanagan. “The police department has committed to having an outreach role in the community.”

Flanagan stressed that money spent on treatment was “a really wise investment,” both in terms of helping people and saving tax dollars.