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2012 profiles: Terri White calls for increased funding for mental health, substance abuse services

Terri White, commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, predicts investments that would help both taxpayers and people needing those services.
BY SONYA COLBERG scolberg@opubco.com Published: January 15, 2012
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While 2-year-old Asher Reed-White is fascinated with excavators and all things digging, his mommy focuses on some digging of her own.

Asher's mother, Terri White, investigates the needs of the state's mentally ill and substance abusers as a state commissioner. As a crystal ball gazer, she's willing to make an optimistic prediction.

“I think ... we're going to see increased funding for mental health and substance abuse services in Oklahoma,” she said.

The commissioner of the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services said the governor and state Legislature saw fit not to cut the department's budget last year, indicating a desire to address incarcerating substance abusers or the mentally ill rather than treating them. She said that will become a major topic in 2012.

“Do we want to invest in ensuring that we have healthy brains and we're providing health care for mental illness and addiction, both of which are diseases?

“Or do we want to incarcerate people for having diseases of the brain, particularly talking about nonviolent offenders, knowing that is by far more expensive, knowing that is far less effective than providing treatment in the first place?” White said.

She's predicting more mental health and substance abuse services in local communities. Now, law officers working with the mentally ill must sometimes drive their charges for hours to the nearest center equipped to care for them. To help the people in mental crisis and law enforcement, the department has asked for five new crisis centers across the state at an estimated total cost of $15 million.

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