Crisis Response Center helps fight the county’s fentanyl problem

Part of their mission is getting people into treatment instead of the judicial system.
Published: May. 30, 2023 at 10:41 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) -As fentanyl use and overdoses continue to rise in the community, more and more people are ending up in the wrong place for treatment.

But the Crisis Response Center is working to combat this problem.

“Part of our mission is to get people into treatment instead of in the justice system,” said Dr. Margie Balfour, chief of quality and innovation for Connections Health Solutions.

Dr. Balfour said fentanyl had become an increasing problem over the past few years. The challenge, it is harder to detect than other drugs and it is becoming increasingly common for it to be mixed with other drugs without a person’s knowledge.

“Fentanyl is a huge issue. We’re seeing a lot of fentanyl use, and we’re seeing it increasing over the last couple of years,” said Balfour.

Since the start of this year, Pima County has seen 108 fentanyl deaths, according to the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Balfour said part of their mission is decreasing this problem and saving lives.

“We have our peer support staff who have experience with substance use. They’re able to engage with people and tell them about their own experience and what worked for them. We’ve got 24/7 nursing and psychiatric coverage where we are able to start treatment,” said Balfour. “Then our case managers who are able to interface with families and clinics and get people connected to the services they’re going to need when they leave.”

The problem many people are dealing with when it comes to getting help is that they are not getting the proper response.

“Instead of getting a healthcare response, which you would expect for other types of health emergencies, you’re getting law enforcement instead of a treatment response,” said Balfour.

The crisis response center is a better option in these situations.

“A crisis center is a much better option than going to jail because most people what they need is treatment, they don’t need to be locked up,” said Balfour. “If you just continue to lock people up for their substance use addiction, they’re going to keep having the same thing happened to them.”

Balfour added that they are working closely with local law enforcement agencies.

“We participate in their crisis intervention training that they do several times a year. That’s a 40 hour training that teaches law enforcement and officers to recognize people who are having a mental health crisis or substance use crisis and deescalate and engage them in treatments,” said Balfour.

But they are also making it easier for them to bring people in for the support and care that they need.

“The way that we do our processes are really designed to make it so that transfer from law enforcement is more likely to happen and it’s easier for them to do so. They have their own separate entrance that enables them to get them in and out really quickly,” said Balfour. “It also decreases the stigma so that other people receiving care aren’t watching them walk somebody in handcuffs past all the other people.”

Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis or substance problem can call 988 or (520) 622-6000.

Operators have the ability to dispatch a mobile crisis team rather than local law enforcement and provide them with transportation to the center. The center is also open 24/7 for people to walk in.

More information on the Crisis Response Center can be found on their website here.

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