NEWTON, NJ - Newton Medical Center has launched First Step, a new program to improve the health and well-being of those in Sussex County with both mental health and substance abuse disorders by closely combining treatment for the conditions.

The new program follows community-based research that not only highlights mental health and substance abuse as top priorities for the region, but also as conditions that are better treated jointly.

The program will offer intensive outpatient services to 200 to 225 adults each year. The program aims to help patients improve their quality of life, reduce mental health symptoms, improve work and interpersonal relationships, improve their financial situation and increase community involvement while working to eliminate substance abuse behavior. By providing adults with access to these intensive outpatient services, the program also seeks to reduce the number of visits to the emergency department as well as hospital admissions due to these co-occurring conditions.

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“Behavioral health is vital to a person’s overall health,” said Roger Cherney, Psy.D., manager of behavioral health services for Newton Medical Center. “By focusing on the connection and interdependency of mental health conditions and substance abuse, we believe we can take a more effective approach to improving the health of individuals and our communities, and reduce health care costs as well as collateral costs in other areas such as the justice and social service systems.”

Recent local health and human service studies show a primary need for expanded substance abuse and mental health services--about half of people statewide and nationally who are receiving services for substance abuse also have a mental health condition. In fact, the rate of substance abuse among those with a mental health condition is much higher than in the general population.

Although mental health conditions and substance abuse are recognized as related or co-occurring disorders, these conditions are often treated separately. However, research has shown that treating both conditions jointly produces better outcomes. The First Step Program at Newton Medical Center will take this approach through robust, evidence-based practices.

The program will involve adults with co-occurring disorders and their family members in an integrated treatment approach. This will include collaborative discharge and aftercare planning with patients and their families.

The First Step Program will be supported by a grant from the Newton Medical Center Foundation. This program is part of Atlantic Behavioral Health, which provides full service behavioral health and substance abuse programs throughout Atlantic Health System, including Newton Medical Center, Morristown Medical Center and Overlook Medical Center.

Local physicians and other health care providers will have an opportunity to learn more about the First Step Program at an open house event on Thursday, Nov. 7 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Center for Mental Health at Newton Medical Center, 175 High Street, Newton.

For more information or referral to the First Step Program, call the Atlantic Behavioral Health Access Center at 1-888-247-1400.