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St. Louis Advocates Open 24/7 Addiction Treatment Urgent Care Site

The Maryland Heights urgent care center will offer 24-7 access to addiction and mental health treatment, its founders said.
Maria Fabrizio for NPR
The Maryland Heights urgent care center will offer 24/7 access to addiction and mental health treatment, its founders said.

An urgent care clinic in north St. Louis County will offer treatment to people with addiction and mental health issues.

More urgent care clinics are opening across the region every year. But few directly treat substance use disorder or offer mental health therapy, said Robert Riley II, cofounder of Sana Lake Behavioral Wellness.

Many need to wait months to schedule an appointment at a clinic or hospital, Riley said.

“One of the biggest areas that is lacking in medicine in general is in mental health,” he said.

“You call a psychiatrist today … pick a phone number and call one, and you’ll hear, ‘We’ll set you an appointment in January 2021.’”

Riley aims to provide patients with easy access to addiction and mental health treatment.

“We have urgent care centers on almost every corner,” he said. “But we don’t have anything for mental health.”

A 2019 report from local health departments found the rate of people seeking mental health care in St. Louis and St. Louis County emergency rooms increased by more than 40% between 2010 and 2016.

While some urgent care clinics and government-supported health centers offer mental health and prescribe addiction medication, there still aren’t nearly enough for the people who need help, cofounder Chad Sabora said.

The clinic will help people who are considering suicide or who have run out of addiction treatment medicine such as buprenorphine, which controls cravings for opioids, he said. If someone seeks more long-term treatment, clinic workers could help connect them to a residential facility.

Within one month of opening, the clinic has served nearly 100 people. More than 20 staff members provide 24-hour care through in-person and telehealth visits.

Riley and Sabora have advocated for people with substance use disorders for years. They cofounded the nonprofit Missouri Network for Opiate Reform and Recovery in 2012. Since then, the network has offered drop-in treatment for people who use drugs or are in recovery and has pushed for legal syringe exchanges and other harm reduction programs.

The clinic is a change of pace from the nonprofit, which helps people even if they don’t have insurance, Sabora said. The clinic will not turn anyone away, but offers fees on a sliding scale to people who don’t have health insurance.

“You can’t have a health care model that’s based on charity, that’s literally impossible,” Sabora said.

Keeping people from dying is the first step, he said. Helping them get better is the next.

“We had to start with, ‘Let’s keep people who are using drugs alive and safe,’” Sabora said. “Then we get to this point, and we have to look at the landscape. And the landscape told us our treatment system is broken, there are gaps and fractures.”

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge

Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.