Budget Cuts Impacting Oklahoma's Treatment Centers For Substance Abuse

Wednesday, August 18th 2010, 8:48 pm
By: News On 6

By Chris Wright, The News On 6

TULSA, OKLAHOMA -- Former Oklahoma State men's basketball coach Sean Sutton's public battle with addiction has shone a spotlight on prescription pill abuse in Oklahoma.

Experts say high-profile cases often encourage others to seek treatment, but tight budgets mean access to resources is no longer a given.

Last Friday's sentencing provided a moment of redemption for Sean Sutton. The embattled former OSU coach pleaded guilty to illegally obtaining prescription drugs, and received three years of probation.

8/13/2010 Related Story: No Jail Time for Sean Sutton

But he looked relieved after enduring a six-month public battle with addiction.

"For anyone that's ever been dependent on a chemical. it's never as easy as flipping a switch and it's over with," Sutton said. "It's a battle every day."

"The number one problem we have with our people that we work and serve are prescribed pain medications, by far and away," said Mike Brose, Mental Health Association.

Mental Health Association President Mike Brose says Sutton has put a face on prescription addiction in Oklahoma. But treatment might not be an option for anyone inspired to seek help by Sutton's ordeal.

The state's budget shortfall has forced the Department of Mental Health to make $20 million in cuts this year. Brose says that means significantly fewer spots in rehab centers.

"It's particularly difficult to access those beds because the demand exceeds the supply," he said.

Instead, they are coming to independent programs like the HOW Foundation. The foundation, which doesn't receive any state funding, stresses rehab through hard labor. Its assistant director says the number of applicants has doubled in the past six months.

"We can only help so many people here, and we've reached our saturation level, I guarantee you we have," Ollie Treat said.

If substance programs continue to fall victim to budget cuts, HOW says treatment will continued to be offered on a first-come, first serve basis, instead of to everyone who truly needs it.

"The plain fact is there are more people in the state not getting help because there are a limited number of beds out there," Treat said.

Sean Sutton completed his treatment in Utah.

The Mental Health Association stresses that there are still plenty of resources available, like alcoholics anonymous and narcotics anonymous, for those seeking help.