By Tim Talley
The Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s mental health commissioner urged state lawmakers Thursday to restore millions of dollars that have been cut from her agency in recent years to increase services for the thousands of people suffering from mental illness or substance abuse in the state.
About $36.5 million has been trimmed over the past three years from the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services’ budget, forcing the elimination of behavioral health and substance abuse treatment units, Commissioner Terri White said.
“We have huge needs and a lot of people out their suffering,” White told members of a House budget subcommittee. “You will spend more taxpayer dollars on the consequences than if you had funded these in the first place.”
Without treatment, people suffering from addiction or mental illness often come into contact with law enforcement officers, increasing local police and incarceration costs, she said.
White said about 245,000 Oklahomans above the age of 12 struggle with alcohol or drug addiction. The state ranks first in the nation in addiction to prescription drugs and has the country’s eighth highest suicide rate.
Gov. Mary Fallin’s budget calls for increasing the agency’s budget by almost $143 million, a 76.4 percent increase that would be paid for by a $146.7 decrease in state appropriations to Oklahoma’s Medicaid provider, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.
The budget cut to OHCA would be offset by funding from other sources, principally the Supplemental Hospital Offset Payment Program adopted by lawmakers last year that would produce an estimated $152 million a year and an additional $269 million in federal matching funds.