Featured on US News and World Report. Author: Tim Talley
Outpatient mental health and substance abuse programs for 189,000 Oklahoma residents, including some addicted to opioids, will be eliminated or slashed on Nov. 1 because of state budget cuts, the state mental health agency director said Wednesday.
Commissioner Terri White of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services said the agency will have to drastically cut its budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 if state lawmakers don't fill a $215 million hole in the state budget. The hole was created when the state Supreme Court overturned a $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax that was supposed to help fund the agency.
"These cuts...are unbearable," White said at a news conference in front of the agency's Crisis Center. "They will decimate the state's behavioral health system." White said the cut to her agency of $75 million, or 23 percent of the total budget will result in the loss of another $106 million in federal matching funds and will be implemented almost entirely in the second half of the fiscal year.
Oklahoma has the highest percentage in the nation of people over the age of 12 who have used prescription pain relievers for non-medical reasons in the last year, according to a July report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The budget cuts will eliminate funding for drug courts, which provide treatment options for criminal defendants who are addicted to opioids and other addictive substances.
Oklahoma lawmakers convened a special legislative session on Sept. 25 to consider ways to raise new revenue and avoid dramatic cuts, but recessed without an agreement.
Negotiations between Republican Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders are continuing. GOP Floor Leader Jon Echols of Oklahoma City did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.
White said the agency will trim $65 million of its budget by eliminating all outpatient services except for the delivery of medication needed by mental health and substance abuse patients. The balance will be cut through the elimination of psychiatric residential treatment for children, White said.
The agency will continue to provide in-patient psychiatric and substance abuse care for the most acutely ill patients, she said.
About 300 state workers will be laid off or terminated due to the cuts as well as thousands of employees in 700 private and nonprofit organizations involved in the mental health and substance abuse fields in the state.
Mental health and law enforcement officials who have daily contact with people with mental health and substance abuse issues said the proposed cuts could devastate the lives of those who receive the services.
"We will lose lives if we cut outpatient services," said Steve Buck, executive director of the state Office of Juvenile Affairs.
White's agency is the latest to announce the reduction of services due to the state budget hole. The Oklahoma Department of Health said earlier this week it will cut ties with dozens of social service agencies that offer child-abuse prevention counseling and health services as part of a larger move to trim $3 million from its budget.