Plan to cut mental health, substance abuse programs announced

Plan to cut mental health, substance abuse programs announced

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK (KSWO) - A major announcement in Oklahoma City today by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

"In order to achieve a $75 million cut in the last 6 months of the year, we will have to eliminate every outpatient service available in the state of Oklahoma, with the exception of medications," Commissioner Terri White said.

White said the department was forced to cut $75 million after the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a $1.50 per pack fee on cigarettes.

The cuts to all outpatient services are not official yet, but if they do not find a way to get that $75 million of funding by December 1, the cuts will go into effect.

Altus Chamber of Commerce President and Chairman of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Board Brian Bush said cutting the outpatient services would be catastrophic.

"Outpatient services allow you to go and receive those services and then go back home to your job, to your family. Those are the services that are affected. Unfortunately, most of the Oklahomans who receive services are receiving those outpatient services. They're the services who are available in the early stages of your mental health challenges or their substance abuse challenges that allow them to keep from getting worse," Bush said.

The cuts would affect organizations that provide outpatient services across the state but Bush said he thinks they would have the biggest impact on rural areas including those in southwest Oklahoma.

"We're further away from some of those large population centers which means there are fewer options available for our citizens which means we would have to travel farther. So as those contracts are no longer able to be funded, as those services are no longer available, that's a loss of jobs in our communities which obviously will impact us from an economic standpoint. But it also really impacts the lives of the families that are living here and need access to those services," Bush said.

Those cuts would impact nearly 189,000 Oklahomans who are currently receiving outpatient services. That includes those who attend drug courts and mental health courts, which Lincoln County District Attorney Richard Smothermon said are the greatest assets prosecutors have to get people help rather than sending them to prison.

"On any given day in Oklahoma, 4,000 Oklahomans are involved in drug courts as an alternative to going to prison. On the other side, you have 600 Oklahomans involved in mental health courts. If these programs are cut that means 4,600 Oklahomans that are leading meaningful lives right now and are going through these systems as an alternative to prison will have no other choice but to go to prison," Smothermon said.

Bush said those programs that find our citizens help rather than simply sending them to prison are imperative to our society.

"We can treat an individual for roughly $2,000 per year but when we incarcerate that same individual, it costs almost $20,000 per year. That math is not difficult. That's why the services of this agency are so important. Far beyond the economic cost and the cost in dollars is the cost of the lives of the people that we serve as an agency," Bush said.

The cuts have not taken place yet and lawmakers still have a few weeks to find some kind of plan before any programs will be cut. At this point, officials say it is up to the lawmakers to find some way to raise more money and at least for now, they're hopeful they can figure something out.

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