The Norman Transcript


February 17, 2013

State ranks high in mental illness, addiction



· What would you consider your biggest success so far?

A real change in the culture and a commitment to evidence-based, data-driven practices, as well as a commitment to stretching our dollars as far as possible. Some people would put those together and call it being cost-effective.

It’s the right thing to do for taxpayers in every case, but it is critical when you’re an agency that historically has been as underfunded as we have.

Mental illness is the third-leading cause of chronic disease in this state, yet we are funded 46th per capita to treat mental illness. We have one of the lowest rates of spending in the nation.

· What is your biggest worry? What keeps you awake at night?

Probably my biggest worry is just how huge the treatment gap is in Oklahoma.

Every night there are people going to bed in this state who didn’t get the help they need … On any given day we have 600 to 900 Oklahomans who’ve actually made the step to ask for substance abuse treatment. They’ve had an assessment. They need residential inpatient services, and every single bed in the state is full.

· How does Oklahoma’s suicide rate compare with other states?

We’re 13th highest in the nation, which is absolutely unacceptable. Suicide is a preventable cause of death.

If you think somebody might even be considering it, ask the question directly: Are you thinking of killing yourself? People will often answer honestly … If you ask that question, then get them on the phone with a professional or the crisis hotline, you can save a life.

· How do you make the case that your department deserves a bigger share of the state budget than others?

Why do we deserve a bigger piece? It’s not simply because we’ve been historically neglected. It’s because we are the biggest public health problem, the most costly when left untreated, and we are the entity that is committed to using evidence-based programs with proven outcomes so that taxpayers know that every dime spent here is going save them a dollar somewhere else.

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