I am a direct-care employee of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, working with clients at Norman Alcohol and Drug Treatment Center, one of the state's few public drug and alcohol treatment facilities.
My job will be one of the first to be cut, due to the doors of our facility closing after a series of drastic legislatively mandated budget cuts. NADTC is known statewide for excellence in treating and serving Oklahomans in need, serving many Drug Court participants, diverting them from spending $18,000 in tax dollars a year on their housing in Oklahoma's Department of Corrections. Their chemical dependency treatment costs about $8,000 in tax dollars.
Every day, I listen to the stories of individuals and families wrecked by the immense suffering that drug addiction and alcoholism causes for individuals and families. Many of our clients (taxpaying Oklahomans) have co-occurring diagnoses of mental health disorders, adding beast to the burden of addiction.
As recent press releases have stated, the legislatively mandated state agency budget cuts have come to ax the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services facilities, after $16 million in total cuts to date, since July. The Legislature is expected to impose another mandated 10 percent budget reduction for state agencies after the first of the year due to state revenues falling alarmingly short at a consistent rate.
Now is the time to consider what our priorities are, doling out essential operating funds accordingly. Rather than illuminating the issue with handfuls of statistics and lengthy explanations, I'll get right to the heart of the matter, posing some very real and very startling questions.
Perhaps the citizens of Oklahoma will be inspired to assist in illuminating their representatives in the Oklahoma Legislature.
Oklahoma ranks toward the top of the national average of citizens with severe mental health and substance abuse conditions. What do you suppose will happen when these Oklahomans are left with no access to treatment services?
We're already seeing good examples of what this leads to in the statewide news. Crime, homelessness, poverty, child and domestic abuse, drug- or alcohol-induced motor vehicle homicides, all of which are just the beginning of what we can expect to see increase exponentially as a result of these budget cuts and agency closings.
If you think that this economic environment has the potential to create a depressed and demoralized Oklahoma, you're more than correct. Poverty and substance abuse go hand in hand: The suffering of poverty creates a fertile landscape for substance abuse and mental illness to develop.
Without accessible treatment services, the suffering of Oklahomans will become greater and greater, indefinitely. Are you prepared for the large and increasing number of severely mentally ill and chemically dependent individuals to be homeless and in the streets in your neighborhood? Resorting to crime, theft, panhandling, filling the spaces of the parking lots of your places of employment, desperate for help or for the relief of a fix?
As a taxpayer, are you prepared for these people to die, families torn apart by the effects of addiction and mental illness? Are you prepared for your community to be infiltrated by all of the above mentioned threats to safety and healthiness, statewide? Oklahomans can expect and begin to accept these conditions as a currently developing reality.
If you think that the mentally ill, addicts and alcoholics affect only themselves, you are gravely misinformed. In fact, it is likely that we have all been affected by the pain that these conditions create. Let's not fool ourselves into thinking that these state services are expendable.
Here is my effort to warn, educate and prepare otherwise unaware Oklahomans for what's in store.
"Lindsey Vandeventer, Norman