I read with interest “Chase, shooting puts officer in thorny position” (The Advocate, Nov. 1) that described the incredible challenges of what our law enforcement officers face in their efforts to protect our community and the split-second decisions that they must make. However, what I find the most frustrating about the article was the closing paragraph you chose, whereby the young man’s mother states, “They took him away.” The fact is that this unfortunate young man was “taken away” due to his addiction to drugs and alcohol.

While incarcerated for murder, was this young man screened for mental illness and drug/alcohol addiction? Was his murder conviction related to drugs? If so, was he properly treated for any identified mental health issues, and was there adequate drug abuse evaluation, intervention and the teaching of refusal skills to prevent relapse once released? Seventeen years offers ample opportunity to work toward a meaningful outcome with any mental, emotional or addictive disorder.

There are inadequate opportunities for the proper intervention, care and follow-up of such individuals before they or society get hurt. Society’s zeal to empty the mental institutions of patients over the past two decades was based upon the assumption that the newer, more advanced psychiatric medications would eradicate the need for mental institutions. I contend that we have in fact reverted to the medieval times, when the seriously mentally ill were relegated to prisons.

Through a process of institutional translocation, society has now emptied and closed long-term mental hospitals and is reverting to filling prisons with the some of the same individuals who were once in long-term mental hospitals. I speak not about those who have mental, emotional and/or addictive disorders who care for themselves responsibly every day. I speak of the addicted who refuse to achieve and maintain sobriety and/or the person who is seriously mentally ill and refuses to take medication. Prisons are ill-equipped to house, much less care for those who are dangerous to themselves or others due these conditions. Currently, Louisiana has no meaningful long-term mental health intervention strategy or alternatives for these unfortunate individuals with serious mental illness or addiction.

We are faced with far too many murder/suicide stories, drunk/impaired injuries and fatalities, and matters of domestic violence, all of which are fueled in some way by untreated or underidentified mental illness and/or drug and alcohol abuse. Somehow, we must become more proactive and at the same time not become vigilantes, either. It is time that America faces this issue for what it is and seeks out meaningful solutions that are respectful for all members of our society.

Harold Brandt

physician

Baton Rouge