State Mental Health Agency Requests $164M Increase from State Lawmakers

Jan 31, 2019

The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services told lawmakers it needs $163.7 million more from them next year.

More than half of that increase, $91.6 million, would go toward the Smart on Crime Initiative, a set of programs to get more non-violent individuals into diversion programs like drug courts.

Some would go toward implementing treatment and prevention programs for marijuana, alcohol, and prescription drugs. ODMHSAS Commissioner Terri White said the death rate for Oklahomans ages 25–64 has doubled over the past decade, driven by suicides, overdoses and alcohol abuse.

There's also a line item for the Labor Commissioner Mark Costello Act. Named for the former commissioner stabbed to death by his mentally ill son, the law allows court-mandated treatment for certain people with severe mental illness that have difficulty following treatment plans.

White said only one out of three people who need help gets it.

"When you keep two [of] three people who need the help out of the door, that’s when they end up in the police car, the jail cell, their kids end up in the foster care system because they couldn’t get their addiction treated," White said.

ODMHSAS estimated a flat appropriation would mean a loss in $20 million in federal funds, which would cost more than 13,500 Oklahomans treatment services. The agency said 73,000 people lost services because of forced budget cuts in fiscal year 2016.

White said Oklahoma is achieving good mental health outcomes, so funding is the major obstacle.

"We’re at the bottom in funding, but we’re in the middle in terms of our outcomes. You get us to the middle in funding, we’re No. 1 in the nation. We are the No. 1 state in the nation for how we prevent, address, and treat mental illness and addiction," White said.

White said improving mental health in the state is going to take a multiyear, multimillion dollar boost, similar to what lawmakers and the governor did to fix crumbling roads and bridges.

"'We are going to invest in asphalt, and we are going to do millions of dollars for several years to get us up to where we have a good investment in our roads and our bridges. And then we’ll just have to maintain after that.' … And my argument is, brain health is as important as asphalt to the overall health and the economy of our state," White said.