Local News

Police Not Only Way To Get Help For Mental Health Patients, Experts Say

Posted July 6, 2005

— Long before police fired tear gas into George Amos' Durham home Tuesday night, his family said it tried to get him committed for drug addictions. Local mental health advocates say, however, that families need to look beyond police for help.

For nearly four hours, police surrounded the 58-year-old's home and tried to get him to come out of the house. After negotiations failed, officers forced Amos out with tear gas.

Amos' family said they had turned to local authorities for help, but were told that Amos posed no threat to himself or others.

"We went to the Durham police and the magistrate's office trying to get him some help, and they're going to tell us there's nothing they can do until he hurts somebody or hurt himself," Joseph Amos told WRAL Tuesday night as police surrounded his brother's house. "This is unreal. And this is what it take to get some help."

"Generally, the criminal justice response is to a violation of the law," said Lattie Baker, executive director of the Alcohol and Drug Council of North Carolina.

Baker says that while involuntary commitment is a last option for law enforcement, he advises families to look elsewhere for intervention.

"If a person would seek clinical assistance, and even in some cases, medical assistance, then the response is quite different," he said.

John Tote leads the Mental Health Association in North Carolina. He concedes magistrates sometimes face a tough call deciding which cases warrant immediate action. But, he says there must be coordination so families know other treatment opportunities before it is too late.

"The worst thing that can happen is for that person, or for their family, to be put in a situation of help not being given because of a lack of understanding," Tote said.

Advocates say many community treatment programs have emergency intervention plans in place, including the Durham Center.

George Amos, who is now being held on charges of assault and communicating threats, is eligible for drug treatment behind bars.


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