County Fills Huge Hole in Addiction Treatment Services

Nearly 100 Residential Treatment Beds Will Soon Be Available

“This is huge,” said substance-abuse specialist John Doyel of the county’s new treatment options.

Paul Wellman

“This is huge,” said substance-abuse specialist John Doyel of the county’s new treatment options.

Among the many holes in drug and alcohol treatment for low-income patients in Santa Barbara County, few have been as gaping as the total lack of residential treatment beds for people on Medi-Cal. That’s about to change thanks to the new and opaquely named bureaucratic program Organized Delivery System, or ODS for short. As of December 1, there will be 20 residential beds available; shortly thereafter, that number is expected to jump to 93. “On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say this is an 8 or a 9,” said John Doyel, head of substance-abuse treatment for the county’s Department of Behavioral Wellness, of the magnitude of the change. “This is huge. In my 33 years in the field, this is without question the biggest structural change in the delivery of services to people with substance-abuse disorders.”

For the first time, Medi-Cal is now providing reimbursement for a wide array of substance-abuse treatment options, including up to 90 days of residential treatment. Medi-Cal is a government program that insures individuals making less than $16,753 a year. Traditionally Medi-Cal has been available only to senior citizens, minors, and single parents of young children. When the Affordable Care Act went into effect in 2014, Medi-Cal eligibility requirements expanded to also include working-age indigent adults. In Santa Barbara County, Medi-Cal enrollments ballooned from 81,000 to 115,344 the following year. (As of December 2017, it was 137,000.)

These new changes ​— ​part of a statewide program involving 40 of California’s 58 counties ​— ​will cover costs of treatment previously not covered: managed care, recovery services, regular individual counseling, and the cost of prescriptions for drugs like Suboxone, which, like methadone, reduces the cravings for addicts. Local methadone clinics, like Aegis, will now offer Suboxone as well. Doyel said he expects about 300 more clients a year can now avail themselves of treatment through the county’s substance-abuse programs. Currently, he estimated the county has 3,000 substance-abuse patients. He said the Medi-Cal dollars come with strict-quality assurance requirements. “We had to show that the services existed,” he said, “and we need to demonstrate that the money is being well spent.” Interested patients can call the department’s access line, which is (888) 868-1649.