The Norman Transcript


April 25, 2014

Help for the hurting

NORMAN — This past fiscal year, the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services served about 187,000 of our neighbors. That’s a lot of Oklahomans, but the department missed serving an estimated 500,000 to 700,000 more that are in need.

An estimated 21 percent of all adult Oklahomans reported having a mental health issue in the past year. Twelve percent reported a substance abuse issue such as alcohol, illegal drug abuse and legal drug abuse.

We are among the nation’s worst in rates of mental illness and addiction. Those conditions lead to other social problems, such as underage drinking, high rates of incarceration and domestic abuse.

Those missed in treatment often end up in our prisons, where corrections workers have become the first-line mental health workers.

A shocking 82 percent of all non-violent offenders in prison in Fiscal Year 2010 had a mental health or substance abuse treatment need.

The good news is the governor and legislature have recognized the issue and have stepped up with additional investments in women’s substance abuse treatment, Systems of Care and additional crisis centers. Those centers often keep Oklahomans out of expensive hospital emergency rooms and incarceration.

Just to maintain existing programs, mental health officials need to grow their budget by $26.5 million this year. Unlike other agencies that are expecting cuts, mental health was expecting a flat budget.

Their request to maintain services comes at a time when lawmakers are hellbent on cutting income tax rates while trying to plug a $188 million budget decline.

Continued investment in mental health services pays long-term dividends. Fewer incarcerations, fewer children in foster care, fewer needless ER visits and healthier families, workplaces and communities. We urge lawmakers to think long-term in their agency budgeting.

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