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Editorial: UNMH helps teens with mental illness, addiction

It took some innovative thinking, not additional money, to fill the gap in adolescent drug addiction treatment that occurred when the state-run Turquoise Lodge closed a year ago this month.

But University of New Mexico Hospital rose to the challenge and announced this week a new inpatient program for young people diagnosed with both psychiatric and addiction disorders.

The new program, to be housed at UNMH’s Children’s Psychiatric Center, will serve young addicts who need intensive inpatient services before they can enter long-term outpatient treatment. Eighteen beds in the 36-bed center will now treat drug-addicted children ages 13 to 17.

UNMH’s expertise in treating addicts is well established; its Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program is the state’s largest, serving about 1,000 adult addicts annually.

The state Department of Health officials closed Turquoise Lodge last August, saying it had been “underutilized,” with an average census of just five patients in 2016. That left the state without an inpatient medical detoxification treatment center for youths ages 14 to 18.

There were plenty of thanks to go around at Tuesday’s announcement of the center’s opening: top officials with UNM’s Health Sciences and Hospital, Bernalillo County, the state Department of Health, and the Children, Youth and Families Department, all spoke.

The new program will be funded from UNMH’s current $50 million annual budget set aside for mental health and substance abuse programs.

The new program targets highly vulnerable young people who, if they don’t get the treatment they need, will drain social services and tax dollars for decades to come – or die along the way.

Kudos to everyone involved in recognizing the dangerous gap in services for young drug addicts and for UNMH for stepping in to fill that gap.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.