Budget Issues Lead To Long Waiting List At Oklahoma Rehab Facilities

Monday, March 19th 2012, 6:13 pm
By: Dana Hertneky

Oklahoma ranks at the top of the nation when it comes to prescription painkiller abuse. We also rank high in meth and alcohol addiction. But for those people seeking help, it doesn't come easily.

The waiting list for state-run rehab facilities has between 600 and 900 people any given day.

The reason: less money and more addicts. And while addicts are waiting for their name to get at the top of that list, many end up in jail or worse: they overdose.

It was prescription painkillers that started Bob Fernando on a downward spiral.

"I'd taken, drank, a fifth of whiskey, hand an 8-ball of cocaine and taken 80 milligrams of oxycontine on my way to rehab," Fernando said.

In rehab, Fernando found God and help. But for thousands of Oklahomans that help, once they ask for it, is nearly six months away.

"The challenge of having such a significant and daunting waiting list is many times by the time their name is called, the throws of addiction have re-emerged and they may be off doing something different that isn't so healthy," said Steven Buck, deputy commissioner of Communication and Prevention Services of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance abuse services.

Budget cuts in 2009, 2010, and 2011 led to the closure of some state-run facilities.

In the last few years, The Oklahoma Department of Substance Abuse's budget has remained flat. But the number of people needing treatment has continued to grow, and has the overall cost of doing business.

"Every time those costs increase, we don't receive additional resources," said Buck. "We lose ground in this fight."

A fight the state says has cost addicts their lives and their freedom.

Fernando says without rehab he questions if he would be here today.

"I had to hit that point in my life that I had to say, ‘my way's not working and let's try this other way,‘ and for me, my way was to fall in love with God," Fernando said.

Buck also says in Oklahoma, private insurance often doesn't cover addiction services, putting a bigger burden on State run facilities.

A federal study found that 275,000 Oklahomans, were dependent on, or abused drugs or alcohol in the past year.