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It just got a lot harder for opponents of court-ordered outpatient treatment for mental illness to argue that it costs too much to use.

A study of mandatory outpatient treatment costs published today in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that use of assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) can vastly reduce overall costs of mental health services for persons with serious mental illness.

 “Common sense has always argued that treating people with severe mental illness is a lot cheaper than hospitalizing people or leaving them to suffer other consequences of being untreated – not to mention more humane,” said Doris A. Fuller, executive director. “Now Duke University and its research partners have produced the numbers to validate it.”

“The cost of assisted outpatient treatment: Can it save states money?” by Dr. Jeffrey W. Swanson of Duke and six other researchers reports that service costs for 520 frequently hospitalized patients with severe mental illness declined 50% in New York City in the first year they received AOT after psychiatric hospitalization and dropped an additional 13% the second year.

Even larger cost savings were reported in five other populous New York counties also analyzed in the study.

Swanson and fellow researchers analyzed the costs of providing program, selected legal and court services and mental health and other medical treatment to people who met the strict criteria for New York’s involuntary outpatient treatment program (“Kendra’s Law”). Dramatic  savings were realized even though the cost of providing outpatient services to people under Kendra’s Law AOT orders was higher.

The researchers said that by saving money with greater use of AOT, mental health agencies could actually find themselves with more resources to meet other mental health needs.  

“Unfortunately, compassion for those suffering these consequences as a result of untreated symptoms of severe mental illness has not been enough to motivate most communities to put their AOT laws to work,” Fuller said. “We hope the prospect of saving their taxpayers money will.”

Read our complete statement on the study.

Read "The Cost of Assisted Outpatient Treatment: Can It Save States Money?".

Read coverage in the New York Times, "Program Compelling Outpatient Treatment for Mental Illness Is Working, Study Says."

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