Deep Treatment Cuts in Cleveland: “People are going to Die.”

By Dirk Hanson 06/10/11

Cuyahoga County has cut funding for addiction and mental health services by more than half since 2002.

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More cuts for state addiction services.
Photo via thinkstockphotos

Cuyahoga County in Ohio has joined Illinois and other state and local governments in taking out its fiscal woes on the backs of the addicted and the mentally ill. Is it crass to ponder whether people who suffer from mental health problems, drug abuse, and alcoholism might be less likely to show up at the polls to extract retribution for this kind of fund-cutting? Like other stigmatized groups—the poor, the disabled, hookers, blacks, gays, women—addicts and those with mental disorders are among the easiest constituencies to abandon. Which is exactly what the head of the County’s Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board says has happened. Director Bill Denihan of Cleveland revealed that he’s just been ordered to cut about $14 million, or roughly one-third of the budget, and lay off 14 employees. And all this at a time, Denihan insists, when the demand among county residents for such services is at all time highs, due to the recession. “We’re paying for the consequences of disinvestment in people with behavioral health issues,” he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “People are going to die.” Since 2002, says the Cleveland paper, “the state has decreased funding for addiction services by 51 percent, and mental health services by 76 percent.” Something very similar is happening in region after region as state and counting funding sources dry up. As we reported, the state of Illinois plans to end all state funding for drug treatment and prevention programs, as part of a package of brutal spending cuts proposed by Democratic Governor Pat Quinn. The amazingly short-sighted aspect of all this is that taxpayers get nailed in the end, anyway, only at much higher cost, when sick people going without treatment end up in emergency rooms they can’t afford.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]