“We are already at a crisis point,” Oklahoma mental health officials expect things to worsen

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Officials at the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services say they're in crisis mode.

Beds are full in every treatment center in the state, and the agency is about $20 million in the hole. When you take into account the money the agency won't get because we lost our federal Medicaid match, it's more like $60 million.

Earlier this month, ODMHSAS had to trim $14 million from its budget.

Officials did that by cutting therapy services for more than 70,000 patients.

"We are already at a crisis point in our mental health and substance abuse system," Commissioner Terri White said.

White says right now, treatment for the most acutely ill patients is the priority.

Those are people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, for example.

The department had to make cuts in some areas to preserve the drug court program, which keeps non-violent offenders out of prison and getting treatment.

"We didn't want to see those drug court slots shrink in our state because for every person who ends up in drug court, it's only $5,000-a-year to a taxpayer. For that same person to go to prison, it's $19,000-a-year," White said.

At the Midwest City Jail, 8 out of 10 offenders in custody suffer from either a mental illness or substance abuse.

Police there are seeing the effects of the budget cuts firsthand.

Midwest City responded to 120 mental health related calls last month.

Usually, the officers take those people to the hospital to get checked out.

"Several hours later, we'll be notified, `Hey, this person needs to stay for an evaluation, they need some treatment, but unfortunately, there's no bed space here, and you're going to have to take them to Lawton or take them to Tulsa," Major Bob Cornelison said.

Every bed in Oklahoma is full.

Mental health experts fear if funding isn't restored next year, the cycle they see too often will only get worse.

"With diseases of the brain, mental illness or addiction, when people can't get the healthcare they need, they often end up in the back of a police car, the inside of a jail cell, inside of a prison cell," White said.

White will present the 2017 ODMHSAS budget to its board on Friday.

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