Mental health, addiction services need support

Currently, Ohio Gov. John Kasich is contemplating expanding the federal entitlement program Medicaid to all uninsured adults with income up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or $15,420, from $11,174. Medicaid covers disabled and elderly citizens that need long-term care, along with low-income children, pregnant women, and some parents. By increasing income levels, it is estimated nearly 600,000 additional Ohio residents will qualify for the program.

Some of those additional citizens will be those being released from jails or prisons. A growing number of men and women with mental illness are in our jails now. Many cycle through these facilities over and over, costing criminal justice systems and local communities additional outlays of scare funding. One recent study indicates nearly 17 percent of people entering jail has manic depression or schizophrenia. Often what happened to cause incarceration was a direct result of lack of income and unmet needs for services like mental health and addiction treatment. Other issues, such as lack of housing and employment, also played a role.

A 2011 study by the Office of National Drug Control Policy indicates between one-third and three-fourths of adult men booked into urban jails in 2010 had no health insurance. Inmates coming out of our jails and prisons lose the state provided care they were receiving while incarcerated. Upon release they most likely have no job, have burnt bridges with their family, and have no access to needed health and behavioral care services. Worse yet is the fact those people who are incarcerated are more likely than those in the general population to have communicable diseases like tuberculosis, AIDS, Hepatitis C, and have addictions or mental health problems.

Individuals leaving jail and prison need a range of services – including alcohol and drug, mental health, and other health care treatment to make a successful transition from incarceration to life in our communities. Without access to services, individuals leaving jails and prisons cannot get the medical care and social services they need to establish stability in our communities, which frequently leads to a return to criminal activity. It is sound public policy – from a public-safety and economic viewpoint as well as from a humane perspective – to ensure released inmates’ access to the benefits that can enable them to live with dignity and freedom in the community.

The recovery rates for mental illness and addiction are comparable to those of physical illnesses. We know with certainty that treatment works and people recover. Individuals with a mental illness and/or addiction, when receiving appropriate treatment and recovery support services like housing, vocational, and peer support services can and do recover. Recovering individuals become productive members of our local communities by working, paying taxes, and keeping their families intact and healthy.

By expanding Medicaid coverage to all individuals under age 65 with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, most men and women being released from prisons and jails will be eligible for Medicaid coverage, which includes mental health and substance abuse treatment. Being able to treat these individuals can help keep them from going back to their old habits, and back through the court system. By using these federal dollars, we can increase treatment that will reduce re-incarceration, thereby lowering local and state expenditures for care while in jail or prison.

In order to reduce the likelihood of similar events such as those that occurred in Chardon, Ohio, and Newtown, Connecticut, Ohio must have a robust and accessible mental health and addiction services continuum of care, including prevention and wellness, screenings, engagement, crisis services, outpatient treatment, inpatient treatment, and community support services.

Please encourage your governor, state senator, and state representative to make a significant investment of additional General Revenue Funding in the state budget for alcohol, drug addiction and mental health prevention, treatment, and support services. Also, please encourage them to further ensure safe and stable children and families in Ohio by providing additional access to mental health and addiction services by expanding Medicaid to 138 percent of the federal poverty level as allowed by the Affordable Care Act. Please call today.

Representatives: Andy Thompson (614) 644-8728; Debbie Phillips (614) 466-2158; Senator Lou Gentile (614) 466-6508; Gov. John Kasich (614) 466-3555.

David Browne is on the Washington County Behavioral Health Board.