State Dept. Of Mental Health And Substance Abuse Says Budget Cuts Could Cost Lives

Wednesday, February 3rd 2016, 6:55 pm

The Governor is pitching massive cuts across the board to bridge the state's budget gap. But advocates for mental health and substance abuse treatments say the cuts are penny-wise but pound foolish. 

Cathy Costello understands more than most of us the devastating effect mental illness can have on a family. Her husband, former State Labor Commissioner Mark Costello was stabbed to death last year by the couple's son who suffered with mental illness.

8/24/15 Related Story: Christian Costello’s Struggle With Mental Illness Opens Up Dialogue About Mental Health In OK

“[If mental health was properly funded, do you think your family would have suffered this tragedy?] I think my husband would be here today. We had a lot of roadblocks,” said Cathy.

She said many of those roadblocks were caused by a lack of state resources.

Wednesday, the commissioner of the state department of mental health and substance abuse services met with lawmakers. Her message - budget cuts will have huge and deadly consequences.

“Suicide rates go up when people don’t get treatment. Violence goes up when people don’t get help. Kids drop out of school when they aren’t doing well because of their mental health issues. People lose their jobs because of their mental health issues,” said Terri White with the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

Director White told lawmakers that it’s correct her staff levels are thin and that they can only treat the most seriously ill patients and thousands are turned away.

“If we add an additional 10-percent cut on that at least 16,042 Oklahomans will lose their service,” said White.

White said as treatment levels go down, costly incarceration rates go up, and so do cases of violence. That’s something Cathy Costello knows too well.

“It breaks my heart because I know that with these cuts, we will probably hear of another family who, please God, who ends up with the same tragedy,” said Costello.

During her state of the state address, the governor proposed a three percent cut to the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

In terms of real people, the department says, that could wipe out services for about 4,500 Oklahomans.