Company Creates Platform for Mental Illness and Substance Use

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A Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) national survey in 2019 determined that drugs and alcohol are abused by half of the people diagnosed with a mental illness. This condition is described as a co-occurring diagnosis.

Heritage Health Solutions is a business located in Coppell. Their website states that they “provide an integrated network of healthcare and pharmacy management services that improve patient care and reduce costs.”

In addition, they created a platform called Heritage CARES, which dissects the co-occurring diagnosis of mental illness and substance use by finding out why individuals self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. This platform also helps people with treating the co-occurring diagnosis.

In a press release, it explains that CARES stands for Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Education and Support. “Heritage CARES is the leading virtual support program designed to help individuals struggling with stress, substance use, and suicidal thoughts.”

Rich Jones is the EVP and Executive Director of Heritage CARES. On top of leading the program, he has had over twenty years of experience in behavioral health, including being a clinician, therapist, healthcare entrepreneur, with knowledge of mental health, Substance Use Disorder (SUD), co-occurring disorders, and intellectual disabilities.

According to the website, “He has built his career on helping people who need the unique, flexible, evidence-based support that our platform delivers.”

On the subject of whether a mental illness or SUD diagnosis comes first, he states in the press release, “As we say in the industry, the first diagnosis depends on which door you enter…That’s to say if you show up to a drug and alcohol facility, the SUD will be the primary condition diagnosed. If you seek care at a mental health facility, that condition will be the primary diagnosis.”

The press release provides a real-life example to explain what Jones is saying. “A man in his 30s has low-lying depression and a drinking issue, but neither has been formally diagnosed. He goes to a football game one night, drinks too much and drives home. Two potential scenarios might play out. In situation A, he gets a DUI on his way home from the game, which will force an SUD diagnosis. In situation B, the same man makes it home from the game, only to face his wife, who is fed up with his drinking and decides to leave him. As a result, his depression worsens, and he seeks help at a mental health facility for suicidal thoughts. Depression will then be his diagnosis.”

Jones said, “The important thing to remember is that there are no wrong doors,” and added, “Either way, patients receive a full psychological assessment, and both conditions will be treated. The treatment will most likely involve integrated or parallel care – integrated care involves one doctor treating both conditions, and parallel involves concurrent treatment for both, just not from the same person. Parallel treatment is the most common, but either works well.”

Parallel treatments are used with Heritage CARES. A licensed therapist would treat mental health concerns that the person has been diagnosed with, and SUD treatment would be covered by the program’s state-certified Assertive Community Engagement (ACE) coaches.

The Heritage CARES program is a “comprehensive program that provides support tools for substance use disorder, stress management and suicide prevention and intervention to participants and their immediate family members,” mentions the press release.

The program is divided into three parts, including care management, education, and peer coaching with trained engagement coaches.

The program also covers mental health wellness and anxiety and can be accessed at any hour of any day. People being able to access guidance with coaches on mobile devices at any time “increases the potential for long-term recovery success for patients who have been through SUD treatment programs.”

Heritage CARES can be for first responders, rehabilitation centers, and companies. The press release mentions that COVID-19 has also increased the rate of co-occurring diagnoses.

Rich Jones shares his concerns that SUD is a high risk to people who have a mental illness. He states, “Self-medicating mental illness with drugs and alcohol is prevalent,” while adding, “Most of us in recovery also have some type of co-occurring diagnosis. For example, alcohol does a great job of taking the edge off anxiety and stress. Likewise, cocaine can motivate people who are depressed. The problem is that substance use makes the underlying problem worse.”

There are different reasons behind the explanation of why specific individuals are diagnosed with mental illness and SUD. According to the press release, it comes down to “how a person is wired,” opportunity, access, and exposure. Substance use affects people differently, where it could be positive for one person but harmful for another.

The most common combinations of SUD and mental illness at Heritage CARES are alcohol and depression, alcohol and anxiety, alcohol and bipolar disorder, and PTSD and opioids.

Substance misuse is not only something that can poorly affect mental health issues, but it can also cause physical harm to a person’s body. Liver disease, diabetes, and heart disease are among the reactions of SUD.

The Lancet produced a study about medical issues combined with SUD with findings in 2020. “Alcohol use was a factor in 741,300 new cancer diagnoses – 6.3 million individuals died in 2020 from cancers of the esophagus, throat, larynx, colon, rectum, liver, and breast,” the press release shared.

People that inject substances are at risk for hepatitis, HIV, and AIDS. The CDC reported that in 2017, “nearly 10% of all new HIV infections occur among injection drug users.” Also, “experts believe chronic pain and associated emotional distress rewire the brain’s stress and reward circuitry, increasing the risk for opioid use disorder.”

Jones mentioned, “Often, it’s challenging to separate the medical and psychological conditions from the SUD,” and continued, “But many times, the SUD is something you can positively affect through recovery efforts. Find a coach, get a plan and stay on the path. For some illnesses, you’ll see immediate effects without the drugs or alcohol. Others take much longer. We can all only go one step at a time. But sometimes a small, positive step in the right direction is the beginning of a big journey.”

The website of Heritage Health Solutions mentions that only 10% of people who suffer from substance misuse reach out for help. “Because most employees are not seeking treatment, employers are losing an estimated $225.8 billion annually due to stress, anxiety, depression, and substance use.”

For more information on Heritage Health Solutions and Heritage CARES, call 844-227-3726 or visit Heritage CARES.

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