“‘Intercept 0″ has been the hidden hero here in Pima County for a number of years,” Kate Lawson told SAMHSA’s GAINS Center staff during a recent discussion of crisis and pre-crisis services in Pima County (Tucson), Arizona, where she works for the county attorney’s office. In early 2016, Ms. Lawson participated as part of a team in a Sequential Intercept Mapping (SIM) exercise facilitated by the GAINS Center. For years the SIM process has helped members of the law enforcement and criminal justice communities work with behavioral health professionals to identify points for diversion, treatment, or both for people with mental or substance use disorders who come in contact with the criminal justice system. The SIM model plots these opportunities along a continuum of system interactions, from Intercept 1, where law enforcement becomes involved, through detention, court processing and incarceration, reentry, and finally community corrections at Intercept 5.

But as momentum has grown in the effort to provide treatment to people whose behavioral health conditions put them on a collision course with law enforcement, focus has shifted toward earlier intervention.

Policy Research Associates, which operates the GAINS Center, has introduced “Intercept 0” to its SIM model to capture this shift encompassing systems and services designed to connect individuals in need with treatment before a behavioral health crisis begins or at the earliest possible stage of system interaction. In Pima County, these range from a county crisis line and Crisis Response Center to law enforcement who have gone through Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training.

“Law enforcement is our first line of defense and offense. They are the stopgap in the behavioral health system,” Ms. Lawson told GAINS staff. “We knew that working with law enforcement on these pre-jail diversions was our best opportunity.”

In Orange County (Orlando), Florida, where Donna Wyche serves as Division Manager for Mental Health and Homeless Issues, many similar systems are in place including a Central Receiving Center and law enforcement officers trained in CIT. “By training law enforcement, it gives them the opportunity to take that person in crisis into care,” Ms. Wyche told GAINS staff. “They have the opportunity to take them into custody and deliver them to the treatment side of the system.”

With strong support from local officials and increasing understanding of the benefits of early intervention, Orange and Pima Counties are committed to furthering implementation and innovation for people who connect with services at Intercept 0. As Ms. Wyche told GAINS staff, “We’re in for the long haul.” While she, Ms. Lawson, and others in the field move ahead, we will report on their efforts, leveraging their learnings to support the broad-based evolution of this transformative new system paradigm.