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Oklahoma mental health agency should be spared - 5/6/2020

Beaman was right to be concerned. A budget plan presented by Republican legislative leaders included a cut of 5%, or roughly $16.3 million, for the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

It must be noted that budget writers faced a Herculean challenge — the economic collapse heightened by the coronavirus pandemic left them with about $1.3 billion less than expected for fiscal year 2021.

However, it’s also true that Oklahoma already faces huge challenges in the areas of mental health and substance abuse, and those are only expected to increase due to COVID-19.

As we have written, the Tulsa-based Healthy Minds Policy Initiative expects more than 13,000 Oklahomans may develop substance use disorders stemming from unemployment, financial stress and other factors. It expects increases in suicide attempts and drug overdoses, and for mental health needs to increase among children.

Speaking on an installment of the documentary series “Killing Pain” by FATE (Fighting Addiction Through Education), an Oklahoma nonprofit, Beaman said the state would be dealing with the addiction and mental health consequences of COVID-19 “for generations to come.”

Terri White, former longtime director of the state’s mental health agency, shares this view. White noted that the economy’s freefall, the isolation mandated by COVID-19 and Oklahoma’s longstanding struggles with substance abuse disorder pack powerful 1-2-3 punch. “The problem is now, over the next at least 12 months if not longer, going to get worse,” she said.

Dr. Kayse Shrum, president of the Oklahoma State University Medical Center for Health Services, has been a central figure in the state’s response to COVID-19 in her role as Secretary of Science and Innovation. Shrum said the focus has rightly had to be on saving lives and protecting Oklahomans’ health and safety.

However, she added, “The same way we’re having to address the public health crisis … we’re going to have to do the exact same thing for mental health and substance abuse.”

Some of those on the video noted that there are things people can do to intervene. One is simply to go to the DMHSAS website (, which includes a “treatment locator” with sites in Oklahoma and across the country.

“Every single person in Oklahoma we can prevent from getting addicted, that we can help once they do get addicted will not only save that person and make dramatic changes in their life trajectory,” Beaman said, “but it will also change the outcomes of future generations.”

Not cutting the mental health agency’s budget would help greatly in that effort.


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