The Pros & Cons of Co-Responder Programs

According to The National Institute Of Health, more than 70,000 people in the United States died from a drug-involved overdose in 2019. In addition, approximately 95,000 people in the United States die from alcohol-related deaths each year.

Additionally, per The National Institutes of Health, 10 percent of adults in the United States suffer from a drug use disorder at some point in their life. Of those 10 percent, approximately 25 percent receive some form of addiction treatment.

Further, the National Alliance On Mental Illness found that 20 percent of adults in the United States experienced a mental illness in 2019. That is a staggering 51.5 million people. Only 44 percent of adults who had a mental illness in 2019 received treatment. 

To say that these numbers are alarming would be an understatement. Nevertheless, even more, concerning is the idea of incarcerating those with addiction and mental health issues without attempting to offer them any form of meaningful treatment.

Mental health and addiction treatment is an absolute must. However, the difficulties that come from leaving these types of issues untreated are not something that can be swept under the rug. Whether it is overdoses, deaths, incarceration, or lost families and jobs, untreated mental health and addiction issues lead to severe consequences. While co-responder programs are not the only solution, they can offer some substantial benefits. However, some pros and cons are necessary to explore.

The Benefits of a Co-Responder Program

Less Involvement in The Criminal Justice System 

One of the most significant benefits of a co-responder program is decreased involvement in the criminal justice system for people suffering from mental health or substance abuse issues. In communities where there is no co-responder program in place, it is generally the sole responsibility of police officers to handle all 911 calls, including those made due to substance abuse or mental health issue.

For example, if a person hallucinates or expresses thoughts about harming themselves, almost everyone’s first response is to call 911. While the police can sometimes deescalate these situations. A police presence often makes the person in crisis more frightened, more hostile, and potentially more likely to harm themselves or others.

Unless they are CIT trained, police officers do not have as much training to handle these situations as mental health professionals. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. It is the ultimate job of the police to ensure the safety of the community.

However, implementing a co-responder program and allowing a mental health professional to communicate with a person in crisis is almost always the better option. This is especially true when professionals are specially trained in handling crises and dealing with people struggling with addiction or mental health issues. 

Access To Services 

Another critical benefit to co-responder programs is quite simple: people who need treatment have access to it. Many people who suffer from mental health or substance abuse issues want help, but they do not know how or where to get it.

Imagine how helpful it would be if a person in crisis were getting this much-needed treatment rather than being incarcerated and receiving no meaningful treatment at all. Co-responder programs can make this happen.

Co-responder teams can refer and enroll individuals to mental health clinics, substance abuse centers, food banks, and various community services.

The Efficiency of Officer Time

Suppose trained mental health professionals can respond to people in crisis who are not posing an inherent risk to public safety. In that case, this is beneficial to everyone involved, including law enforcement.

Patrol officers are put back into service faster, meaning they can handle other situations that might be more dangerous and pose a risk to the public. Having an officer spend their time trying to speak with a person in crisis who does not pose an immediate threat is inefficient and often does not work.

Additionally, there is better collaboration and communication between law enforcement and behavioural health practitioners when co-responder programs are in place. Finally, behavioural health programs allow police officers to focus on other calls.

With the proper software, like Julota, officers and behavioural health professionals are linked in a very productive way. Julota allows law enforcement to see the information they need during the crisis, such as whether an individual is receiving mental health services and if they have a caseworker that the officer can contact to help handle the situation.

Significant Cost Savings to the Community 

Substance abuse and mental health treatment cost money, so there is still an upfront expense in the short term. As people are shifted away from the criminal justice system and into mental health or substance abuse treatment.

However, in the long term, the savings are significant. As people become self-sufficient, healthy, and productive citizens, there is a decreased cost of incarcerating individuals. The estimated cost avoidance to the community is $350,000 per year per co-responder based on an average of 60 in-person contacts per month.

In addition to financial cost savings, there are also significant benefits to the community and individuals on a more human level. For example, individuals in crisis report feeling less threatened and stigmatized in interactions with co-responder teams than interactions with law enforcement alone. So that piece is a win for the individual and law enforcement.

Additionally, according to National Alliance On Mental Illness, serious mental illness causes 193.2 billion dollars in lost earnings each year, or an average of $16,302 fewer earnings per person than individuals not experiencing mental illness. So when a person is struggling with their mental health or substance abuse issues and is not receiving treatment. It is easy to see why they cannot be the most productive version of themselves. 

Negatives Of Co-Responder Programs 

Lack Of Funding

One of the significant challenges of co-responder programs is funding. In order to create this type of program, grants have to be secured. After grant funding runs out, it is not easy to keep the program sustainable.

The program needs to find further grant funding or gain community leadership support by securing money in the budget. Unfortunately, none of this is easy.

However, one way to combat the funding issue is to provide hard data and personal anecdotes about the program’s successes. Julota data reporting proves the program’s positive outcomes when they go to city, county, or state officials.

This information and reporting make it much easier to secure more funding and a larger budget.

Facility Capacity and Limited Insurance Benefits 

While co-responder programs are ideal in theory, in practice, they can be a bit more challenging. The goal is to ensure that everyone who needs treatment can obtain it, rather than being incarcerated when they are experiencing a crisis.

Unfortunately, there are not enough treatment centers. When an officer attempts to bring a person to mental health or substance abuse centers, the facilities are full with no availability.

Additionally, there are many times when there is an opening. However, the individual in need does not have the required insurance. When officers and co-responders utilize Julota, they can check the bed availability before they even arrive at the facility. Thus, cutting down on unnecessary trips that ultimately waste their time and the individual’s time.

Additionally, Julota gives them the ability to check and see if the patient’s insurance will be accepted at the center, which saves a significant amount of time. However, this is an issue that goes further than Julota or any program can fix. The entire country needs more accessible and affordable mental health treatment options.

Julota can help with this in a sense. However, it is up to government and city officials to increase funding for treatment facilities and allow people to get the help they need. Julota can provide data showing the benefits of diverting people away from the criminal justice system and into treatment. Hopefully, this will lead to a broader range of treatment options and funding for those who desperately need it.

Lack Of Follow Up

There are instances where clinicians do not know what happens after a person is referred to a treatment center – the feedback loop is not closed. The individual is referred to a provider, and the co-responder team never receives an outcome.

Co-responder teams have no idea if the individual ever made it to treatment or completed treatment or what they did once they were discharged from the treatment facility.

The follow-up is just as crucial as the referral. Once a person is finished with treatment, they must receive continued care on an outpatient basis, at least for some time. 

With Julota, co-responders have the opportunity to follow the client throughout their care. Continuity of care allows them to know what is being done and what the outcome is. In addition, they can continue to check on the patient and help them receive ongoing care if necessary. 

Co-Responder Programs Are not Perfect, But They Can Be Incredibly Beneficial

As you can see, co-responder programs are not perfect. There are certainly challenges. However, the implementation of co-responders can be incredibly beneficial to everyone involved.

These benefits apply to police officers, mental health professionals, and most importantly, the individual who needs to receive the treatment. Instead of incarcerating people who desperately need help, co-responder programs attempt to get them the support they need, which benefits everyone.

The community is safer when people get the treatment they need. The individual feels cared about and has a chance to recover.

Once they do recover, they can be productive members of the community. In addition, police officers save time because they have help from professionals who are more extensively trained in mental health and substance abuse. Thus, allowing officers to respond to other calls where they are genuinely needed.

Lastly, it will enable mental health professionals to do what they desperately want to do, which is to help people and get them the treatment they need. With tools like Julota, co-responder programs have the opportunity to change communities for the better truly.