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Local expert says resources to treat substance use disorders do exist despite obstacles to care

Katie Quinn

Substance use disorder comes from the continuous use of drugs or alcohol. It can be difficult for those affected to get the help they need. Heather Harlan works for the Boone County Public Health and Human Services educating people on substance use disorder. Her job includes teaching people about the resources available to them in the community.

Katie Quinn: If I'm someone who has a substance use disorder, what is step one to getting treatment?

Heather Harlan: You can look on the DMH, Department of Mental Health website, if you have private insurance, get your insurance card out. And there'll be a number listed probably specifically for substance use disorder treatment. And then if you don't have insurance, but you still want some help, there is treatment available. And I think there's also there's a federal one called findatreatment.gov.

Behavioral Health Resources phone numbers to call: 573-751-4942 or 800-575-7480.

Katie Quinn: To dive deeper a little bit, what should I expect? Because obviously, you just gave us all this information, but what do I do with it?

Heather Harlan sits in a conference room with a white jacket and blue top.
Katie Quinn
Heather Harlan explains the treatment process for substance use disorders on June 28.

Heather Harlan: If you have private insurance, then an individual, a family member could begin the process. If you're needing help from Missouri Department of Mental Health funding, then the individual needs to make that appointment.

The first thing that would probably happen was they would do sort of a screening, where they would ask some initial questions about maybe some demographic information. Also, what sort of drug or alcohol that the individual might be using, how much how often.

Then after that, they probably will schedule what is known as an assessment. Now, if we think of behavioral health is health, and the way we get treatment and help for that is actually similar to the way we might get help for a physical health issue.

For example, if you fell and hurt your arm, and your arm was hurting and you though I don't know, maybe I should have somebody look at this. You make a phone call, and then you go in, and probably they're going to X-ray to see what's going on with your arm, right? Well, the same thing happens with the assessment.

In behavioral health, there's no real, they need an X-ray of your life. And there's no machine to do that.

The best way to get a picture of what's going on in your life, is to ask you a lot of questions. It would be around the substance use, but it's also around your physical health, mental health, your housing, employment, family relationships, legal issues, your other health issues, to get a whole picture of sort of the X-ray of your life.

Katie Quinn: I have a question for you. If I have a loved one in my life, what advice would you give to a family member who wants to help that person?

Heather Harlan: Well, I would say first of all, don't believe that there's nothing you can do. That's probably the number one thing we hear well, you can't do anything unless they want it for themselves. And actually, that's really not true. You can't control things the way you would like, that doesn't mean there aren't positive interventions in which you could participate.

Katie Quinn: What do you think is the biggest piece of misinformation out there that you would like to demystify?

We know that about 90% of substance use disorders begin before the age of 18. But it's more on a community level.
Heather Harlan

Heather Harlan: That you can't prevent substance use disorders.

We know that about 90% of substance use disorders begin before the age of 18. But it's more on a community level. People don't understand it, and they don't seem to have the political will or knowledge to engage in philosophies, policies and practices that will do what we can to keep addictive substances out of the hands of young people.

We know if we wait till young people are 21 because the brain is still developing to have access to any addictive substances, addiction rates would plummet because the brain is more mature, less likely to get off track and not nearly as vulnerable.

Katie Quinn works for Missouri Business Alert. She studied radio journalism and political science at the University of Missouri- Columbia, and previously worked at KBIA.