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State capital building in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Many people are not aware of a bill that passed in Utah’s House earlier this year. House Bill 99 addresses substance abuse and mental health and the parameters in which local law enforcement and social work agencies can work.

HB 99, signed by Gov. Gary Herbert on March 20, reflects what Americans everywhere should be concerned about in their communities to improve society. The common misconception that people with drug addiction problems are in their predicament solely because of choice jeopardizes getting the help they need. Mental illness also plays an important role in how they are influenced by drugs and addiction. This common misconception of choice is also the reason many of these people with mental health issues are misdiagnosed or do not receive the help they deserve. Too often, this leads to misconceptions and stereotypes in the community that needs to be helping them.

Unfortunately, too many people in society at large don't consider it a problem that they don't understand these differences and the struggle of living with these issues. Their neighbors and fellow citizens silently struggle daily with mental illness and addiction. The majority of Utah's and the United States' population is directly affected by mental disorders and addiction. Because they lack knowledge about the issue, many people oppose the government's involvement in helping address and resolve these issues, which do affect the whole community.

Many do not realize that as they turn a blind eye to mental illness and substance abuse issues, they are creating a larger problem that becomes more difficult to address as time goes on. By taking such an approach, they are empowering those who would oppose the progression and possible rehabilitation of people who are struggling. In its history, the United States has experienced how excluding a group of people affects their morale and progression. In a nation founded on freedom and equality, treating people with these challenges with dignity and respect is an essential part of accomplishing the greater mission of rehabilitating them.

Mental illness has always been a part of society, but, like many other misunderstood illnesses, it has been overlooked and the people affected mislabeled and mistreated. HB 99 addresses the changes that need to be made in local and statewide laws for people with mental illness as well as substance abuse problems. The bill proposes the implementation of mental health treatment and makes changes to procedures and civil commitment criteria.

These changes are essential to treat people with mental illness and substance abuse issues more effectively. Knowing risk factors for addiction and other outliers that may affect recovery are important components in the task of helping the person as a whole.

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According to a 2014 survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an estimated 43.6 million Americans (or 18.1 percent of the population) 18 and older experience some form of mental illness, and 20.2 million adults (8.4 percent) reported having a substance use disorder. And mental health disorders impact substance use: SAMHSA reported that “of these, 7.9 million people had both a mental disorder and substance use disorder, also known as co-occurring mental and substance use disorders."

The passing of HB 99 is an important step in helping these millions who struggle, and, consequently, benefiting our communities.