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Mental Health, Substance Abuse Treatment Programs Celebrate Proposed Funding Increase

People who run Florida mental-health and substance-abuse-treatment programs are celebrating the highest proposed state funding they’ve seen in five years. Advocates from several of these groups were at the Capitol on Tuesday to thank lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott for recognizing the importance of community-based behavioral health programs.

Two years ago, Katherine Johnson was living on the streets in Jacksonville.

“I was brought up in a middle- to upper-class family, and I always had a good childhood. But somewhere along the way, I lost myself in drugs and alcohol,” she said. “My family had given up on me, and I got to the point where I was suicidal but I wouldn’t take my own life, and I was homeless, living on the streets and sleeping on benches.”

Johnson said, she heard about a detox center called Gateway. When she got there, she found out she was three weeks pregnant.

“Thank God for the funds for pregnant women in treatment. Today I have two years sober. My son is 18 months old. And my life is completely changed,” she said.

She spoke in front of the House of Representatives offices on Tuesday. The speech was part of Behavioral Health Day, when mental health advocates come to the Capitol to lobby for funding.

Rob Seidlecki, the Department of Children and Families Assistant Secretary for Substance Abuse and Mental Health programs, said, “This legislative session has already given us some great successes. Unlike prior years, where our system was facing some significant budget cuts and we were always on the defensive, this year we’re seeing some good things.”

He said, Gov. Scott has asked for additional money to integrate behavioral health programs into the child welfare system. And both chambers of the Legislature are proposing new funding and new programs to detect and treat mental illness in young people.

Rep. Darryl Rouson (D-St. Petersberg) also came to the press conference.

“I’m in the middle of committee, but I wanted to stop by and let and you know how important it is to all of us that you’re here,” he said.

Rouson said, he’s grateful for the treatment that led him to be 15 years, three weeks and four days sober. And he’s grateful that his fellow lawmakers finally seem to be agreeing this year that treatment is important.

“Every year they make us come up here and beg and grovel for every dollar that’s spent on mental health and substance abuse treatment. And every year, guess what we do. We fight for it,” he said.

Linda DePiano, who’s CEO of the Jerome Golden Center for Behavioral Health in West Palm Beach, said, this year, there’s not much of a fight.

“For the first time in five years, there is increased funding in both the House and Senate budgets,” she said.

Mark Fontaine, Executive Director of the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association, said, it’s thanks to people who go through treatment coming the Capitol and sharing their stories.

“We’re in the middle of a revolution. What’s the revolution? The revolution is that, it wasn’t too long ago that we didn’t talk about addiction. We didn’t talk about mental illness. It was quiet. And I have to tell you, we spend a lot of time down and the Capitol, and in committee meetings, legislators are talking about addiction. Legislators are talking about mental illness,” Fontaine said.

Any allocations for new mental health and substance abuse programs in the final budget passed by both chambers will need approval from Gov. Scott.