Florida continues to rank next to dead last in spending on mental health care. Dead would be the operative word today, as Manatee County witnesses a soaring number of heroin overdose deaths and an overwhelming number of substance abusers seeking treatment.
The weeklong series of the Herald reports, titled "Heroin Overdose Crisis in Manatee," outlined in painful detail the overburdened mental health care system lacks the resources to keep pace with demand.
Most of the bills in the 2015 session of the Legislature that addressed additional resources for behavioral health and addiction treatment failed. That shortsighted tragedy could be costly in terms of lives lost as more addicts are put on waiting lists for treatment that can last a month, an eternity of continued substance abuse.
"There's not an appreciation for the strain on the system," Manatee Glens president and chief executive officer Mary Ruiz told Herald reporter Kate Irby in last week's articles, describing the Legislature's failures and the rising pressures on the mental health system.
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Just after Florida gained control of the epidemic number of pill mills handing out prescription painkillers and other dangerous narcotics, which occurred four years ago, addicts turned to heroin. The statewide number of overdose deaths from heroin use soared from eight in 2012 to 63 in 2014. With 36 fatalities by mid-May this year, the 2015 total appears poised to jump again.
State allocations for mental health services plunged during the Great Recession and remain far too low. Per capita spending on mental health services across the nation averages about $130 while Florida's mark is a stingy $37.
Manatee Glens, the county's behavioral health hospital that specializes in mental health and addictions treatment, is the only such center in the county that receives state and federal funds. The hospital also is awarded county money.
The months of specialized care and support, including a four-day detoxification stay and four weeks in a residential program and an outpatient regimen, is expensive, around $12,500 for the first two programs alone at Manatee Glens. Few heroin addicts carry health insurance, work or can afford the lifeline to a clean future.
Manatee Glens soaks up the cost for hundreds of charity cases annually since government funding falls far short. Last year, the hospital pumped about $2.4 million into the costs of uninsured care, making up $1.4 million of that through its profit margin and the remainder through administrative cuts.
Since 2009, budget restraints forced Manatee Glens to slash services, closing 16 beds in the teen residential drug treatment program, 20 beds in adult residential mental health treatment, 15 slots in outpatient detoxification and 22 slots in children's day treatment. The blame can be found in the 10.5 percent cut in state and local government grants since 2008. Government has literally abandoned the least among us. With a rebounding economy and state revenues rising, this is a travesty of humanity.
The only alternatives to a substance abuse treatment center are hospital emergency rooms and the county jail, neither of which should be dealing with addicts, especially considering the exorbitant cost to both compared with Manatee Glens.
Incarceration is not a solution to drug or alcohol addiction. All too often, substance abusers only clean up until released and then resume their hellish lifestyle. Emergency rooms are not equipped to deliver such specialized care.
The Legislature has no appreciation of these higher costs on society -- because jail and hospital expenses come out of the pockets of local taxpayers and private enterprises, not the state budget. So it's quite easy for lawmakers to turn a blind eye to mental health care so they can steer state dollars elsewhere, including their own pet projects.
Fortunately, Manatee County enjoys two influential legislators with a deep appreciation for behavioral health -- Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano and House Majority Whip Jim Boyd, both Bradenton Republicans. Both told Irby the political atmosphere is shifting toward a more favorable view of funding behavioral health, even with the failures this year.
Since drug addicts don't employ lobbyists, and mental health hospitals can ill afford to match the money spent by special interests in order to secure legislative allies, we can only depend on enlightened minds. We encourage Galvano and Boyd to be the standard bearers for mental health in the 2016 legislative session.