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California’s third-largest county is opting into assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) for qualifying residents with severe mental illness, and that’s a big deal. 

It’s a big deal because California is the nation’s largest state and where California leads, the rest of the nation often follows.

Like 44 other states and the District of Columbia, California has long had an AOT law on the books. Like most of those states, California has barely used its law. By voting unanimously to implement – and fund – what California calls “Laura’s Law,” the Orange County Board of Supervisors has set a course the rest of California – and the nation – would do well to follow.

“The third most populous county in California now has a critical lifeline for patients and their families that will reduce hospitalization rates, homelessness, arrests and incarceration, while saving money and lives,” said Carla Jacobs, Treatment Advocacy Center board member and a resident of Orange County. “This will be a significant improvement for people suffering with serious mental illness and their families.”

Despite this sea change for Orange County, most Americans continue to live in states where the mental health system is only accessible to those well enough to seek treatment. This puts help out of reach for the people who are most ill and most at risk to end up behind bars, hospitalized, victimized, homeless or worse. AOT has been proven to reduce these consequences of non-treatment and to save taxpayer dollars.

There are still 54 counties in California and a majority of counties nationwide where individuals with mental illness, their families and their communities are not benefiting from their AOT laws. Here’s hoping they follow Orange County’s lead and put AOT to work making treatment possible for more of their citizens who need help the most.

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