State granted $3.5 million to treat disorders

Funding intended to break cycle by treating mental health problems, drug abuse at the same time

Posted: Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Alaska has been awarded a $3.5 million federal grant to help the state provide treatment services for people with both substance abuse and mental health disorders.

In October, the state Department of Health and Social Services received $1.1 million of the grant, which is to be paid out over five years. DHSS will receive $1.07 million the second year, $1.08 million the third year and $100,000 each of the last two years.

The grant comes from the State Incentive Grant program within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

According to a SAMHSA survey, almost 4 million Americans have both a serious mental illness and a substance abuse disorder.

"Too often individuals with co-occurring disorders cycle back through our system time and time again because they aren't treated for both problems at the same time," Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Joel Gilbertson said in a prepared statement. "We aim to change that with the funds from this grant by ensuring that individuals receive coordinated treatment."

Karen Pearson, associate director for the state Division of Behavioral Health, said the grant would help the state reach its goal of integrating mental health and substance abuse services.

In July, the Division of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse and the Division of Mental Health were combined to form the Division of Behavioral Health.

Pearson said the grant will be used to help coordinate how to license, certify and credential agencies so they can service mental health and substance abuse patients.

"When you're looking at serving a person that has both issues, you have to make sure the substance abuse folks have the basic screening skills to make sure a person has a mental disorder," she said. "We believe it was happening in some places and not in others. We want it to be the norm everywhere."

She said the grant also would help DHSS assess how the integrated system for mental health and substance abuse patients will be financed. It also will be used to establish and maintain a single data system for substance abuse and mental health providers.

"This program builds on SAMHSA's Report to Congress on Prevention and Treatment of Co-occurring Substance Abuse Disorders," said SAMHSA administrator Charles Curie, who presented the grant to Murkowski on Monday. "That report acknowledged that too often individuals are treated for only one of the two disorders, if they receive treatment at all. These grants are part of SAMHSA's action plan to help states create a care system for treating people for both disorders, so any door the individual walks through for medical care will be the door to comprehensive treatment."

Six other states - Texas, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana - also received the grant.

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at

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