Practical ways to connect with drug and alcohol services

If you needed help with substance use, would you know who to call?  What about finding help for a loved one, maybe your son or daughter?

When his 22 year-old son needed help, Tom McLellan, PhD, didn’t know what to do.

“And I, underline, am an expert,” he explained to an incredulous reporter on NBC News earlier this month. “If I don’t know, nobody knows.”

McLellan, of course, is an addiction scientist at the top of his field, the former Deputy Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and the current CEO of the Philadelphia-based Treatment Research Institute.  McLellan’s son died of a drug overdose six years ago, on the same the night that he graduated from college.


It’s too hard to understand how to get help for drug and alcohol problems.  In an effort to address this knowledge gap at a local level, on April 16, the Coalition for Leadership, Education and Advocacy for Recovery (CLEAR) held a conference in downtown Pittsburgh about accessing treatment and recovery support in our region. There were about 40 attendees.

Speakers included Latika Davis-Jones, PhD, MPH, MSW, administrator of the Allegheny County Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services, and representatives from re:solve Crisis Network, the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, Gateway Rehabilitation, and Cove Forge Behavioral Health Services.

Jones began the presentation with a rhetorical question.

“People don’t generally have to wait for medical care; why should they have to wait for behavioral health care?” she asked.

The reality is that people do wait for behavioral healthcare for a variety of reasons.  Some people encounter barriers to enrollment in Medical Assistance to cover the costs of their care.   Sometimes local treatment providers’ beds are full, especially for those who are uninsured.  Sometimes transportation poses a barrier: particularly in rural areas, people who need treatment services but can’t (for whatever reason) drive to them, can be left hanging.

Although, unfortunately, accessing treatment is more complicated than it should be, the presenters offered useful information for Allegheny County residents seeking services that should be shared widely.

Resources do exist to help you navigate the treatment options in Allegheny County.

If you have Medical Assistance (HealthChoices) or are without insurance, call Community Care Behavioral Health at 1-800-553-7499.  “That’s the front door to our treatment system,” said Jones.

If you have private health insurance,  flip over your insurance card and look for a number for behavioral health or D&A services.

If your job has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), get in touch with them. One speaker pointed to EAPs as “the best kept secret” for helping people get help with substance use.  They are confidential.

Anyone can call re:solve Crisis Network at any time (1-888-796-8826). Note that  re:solve is a crisis stabilization service, not a treatment provider. “We are really about access,” explained a re:solve staff member.

Anyone can call the After Hours Telephone Recovery Support Helpline at 412-463-7006 (from 5:00pm – 12:00 am).  The Recovery Helpline can offer support in navigating services systems and offer treatment referrals.

Anyone can call a local treatment provider for an assessment (needed before insurers will cover any type of addiction treatment).  You are not required to receive treatment from the provider who gives you an assessment.  For a list of providers, see the Allegheny County D&A Services Directory below.

Anyone can call ONALA Recovery Support Services, which offers information about treatment options and various 12-step meetings.  The ONALA Center also provides healthcare navigation services for individuals interested in signing up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Anyone can access clean syringes, naloxone prescriptions (a medication that reverses overdose), and a variety of health education and social services (including treatment referrals) at Prevention Point Pittsburgh.

To address the issue of access, treatment providers are offering innovative outreach services that might surprise you.

Gateway Rehabilitation has a live chat function on its website available during day.

Cove Forge has a mobile assessment van that can meet people in their homes or communities, available by calling 1-866-769-6822.

Treatment-seekers may want to consider applying for Medical Assistance.

Halfway houses are often not covered under commercial plans (even good ones).

Young adults covered by their parents’ health insurance who are nearing the age of 26 will want to apply for Medical Assistance in advance of their birthday.  Sometimes young people turn 26 while in treatment and suddenly lose their funding.

Presenters and audience members discussed emerging issues that can complicate access to services.

Insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act can be confusing for treatment seekers and treatment providers alike; different plans have different deductibles, although behavioral health services should be covered as part of essential health benefits.

Older adults need services more than ever and can have difficulty finding them.  Medicare often does not cover treatment from specialty D&A treatment providers.

Additional Resources

2015 Where to Call: Director of Mental Health and Drug and Alcohol Services by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services