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Substance Abuse and Mental Illness at the Forefront of Talks In Oklahoma

The commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Terri White, spoke recently at a meeting about the current mental health and substance abuse issues that are plaguing Oklahoma. She compared addiction and mental illness to diabetes, as science has clearly shown that both mental illness and substance abuse are diseases. While diabetes is a disease where you are unable to secrete the correct amount of insulin, addiction and mental illnesses are diseases where the brain is unable to create the right amount of chemicals or is unable to use those chemicals correctly. Because they are all diseases, they can all be treated, White emphasized.

One in four people struggle with an addiction or mental illness nationally, and anyone can be suffering. "It looks like you, like me, like our families or the CEOs of huge companies," she stated. "It resembles those who make policy, who teach our children, and the homeless. It is not over there, it affects everyone not just 'those people''. And along with the prevalence of addiction and mental illness, Oklahoma has abysmal statistics across the board. With the highest rate of diabetes and heart disease it make sense that there will be high rates of these other illnesses because the body is connected, she says. That seems to be true, as between 700,000 and 950,000 Oklahoma residents suffer from addiction and mental illness.

Resources are also too sparse to deal with these mounting issues. Almost eight hundred youths med the criteria for needing support services for substance abuse in Garfield County but only seventy two received any sort of treatment. Over two thousand adults also needed addiction services in the same county, but only 341 received the support and treatment that they needed. The disparity between need and resources is huge, leaving thousands to struggle alone. Alcohol is the number one issue for Oklahoma residents, but there are huge concerns regarding methamphetamines, opiate use, and marijuana.

With over six hundred people waiting for treatment, and prescription drug abuse quickly becoming the fastest growing category of substance abuse, there are people who are dying while on the waiting list. They are dying because the budget is too small to treat the need, even though substance abuse is a treatable issue. In response, Oklahoma has taken a different strategy to keep people safe.

"We are locking people in prison because of their issues with mental illness and addiction," White said. "We are perpetuating an ineffective system that costs the taxpayers a lot of money."

Treatment is a far better option, running at about two thousand dollars per person a year. Mental health or drug court costs around five thousand a year, while a hospital stay costs fifteen thousand. Incarceration costs Oklahoma taxpayers $23,000 a year per person, sometimes more if they have severe issues from the mental health or addiction. The cost of incarcerating someone for an offense that isn't violence could pay for the treatment of ten people in the community. It is past due time to make a change to help Oklahoma residents.


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