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Help for mentally ill teen addicts

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Advocates for teenage substance abusers cheered an announcement Tuesday that University of New Mexico Hospital will begin offering inpatient services for youths diagnosed with both psychiatric and addiction disorders.

The program recognizes that young drug abusers also often suffer from mental illnesses that require intensive treatment, a UNMH addiction specialist told community leaders at the announcement.

Dr. Snehal Bhatt, medical director of UNM’s addiction treatment programs, discusses a new inpatient program for teenage addicts who are also diagnosed with a mental illness. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

“What this new program does is fill that all-important gap – what do we do with our adolescents that have substance-use disorders and other co-occurring mental illnesses,” said Dr. Snehal Bhatt, medical director of UNM’s addiction treatment programs.

“I think this is a wonderful step that is going to serve our adolescents really well,” he said.

The program will be housed in UNMH’s 36-bed Children’s Psychiatric Center, on UNM’s north campus. The center previously served only children with psychiatric diagnoses but not those with substance abuse disorders.

The center includes an 18-bed unit that houses children ages 13 to 17 that will now be available for drug addicts, said Dr. Mauricio Tohen, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at UNM’s Health Sciences Center.

UNMH has no immediate plans to build new facilities or add staff to serve the program, he said.

The announcement comes one year after the state closed a 20-bed substance-abuse unit for adolescents at Turquoise Lodge Hospital in Albuquerque. State Department of Health officials said the program had been “underutilized,” with an average census of just five patients in 2016.

Advocates for teenage substance abusers said at the time that the state failed to promote and market the adolescent unit at Turquoise Lodge.

The new program builds on UNM’s Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program, or ASAP, the state’s largest substance abuse treatment program, which serves about 1,000 New Mexicans.

It serves a small but vulnerable group of addicts who need intensive inpatient services before they can enter long-term outpatient treatment.

“These are the most vulnerable patients – those who have a drug addiction in addition to a psychiatric condition,” Tohen said.

UNMH’s inpatient program grew out of discussions that began when the Turquoise Lodge unit closed in August 2016, leaving a gap in inpatient services for addicts ages 14 to 18, said Rodney McNease, executive director of behavioral health programs at UNMH.

The new program will be funded from UNMH’s general fund, which budgets about $50 million annually for mental health services for adults and children, as well as substance abuse programs.

The program will serve all New Mexico children regardless of their ability to pay, he said. About half the children now served by the Children’s Psychiatric Center live in the Albuquerque area, he said.

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