Advocates Tell Gov. Pat Quinn Substance Abuse, Mental Illness Are “Connected”

Sara Moscato Howe

Sara Moscato Howe

(Springfield, IL) – Mental illness. Substance abuse. In most tragedies, the two are connected.

A top Illinois behavioral health advocate today praised Governor Pat Quinn for citing mental health care as a top priority in an Illinois public safety strategy in his recent state of the state speech, but warns that substance abuse treatment must be included in the policy mix.

“Any strategy to address mental health care without also addressing substance use disorders will fall short.”  said Sara Moscato Howe, CEO, Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association.

“While there may be a high correlation of gun violence or domestic abuse tragedies with mental illness, there is also a strong relationship of mental illness with unaddressed substance use disorders,” Howe stated.

Quinn highlighted mental health care in his speech to Illinois lawmakers in Springfield on February 6.

“We must move forward with a comprehensive plan that includes gun safety legislation, mental health care, and violence prevention strategies,” said the governor during his remarks.

Shrinking access to care for those struggling with mental illness is a direct result of Illinois state government decreased funding support for mental healthcare.  For those with untreated, or undiagnosed mental health issues, it is common that symptoms are managed through the use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs, noted Howe.

“People struggling with mental illness who have no access to professional treatment, self-medicate, often abusing drugs or alcohol in an effort to manage their mental illness,” said Howe. “That’s why any behavioral health care strategy to address public safety must include substance abuse prevention and treatment.”

Howe noted that state funding for substance use disorder treatment has also plunged, dropping 29% since 2009.  State funding for addiction prevention has been obliterated, falling by 87% in the past five fiscal years.

“If behavioral healthcare is to play a central role in an Illinois public safety strategy to reduce violent crime, then Governor Quinn and the legislature will need to fully fund services for Substance Use and Mental Health Disorders,” said Howe.

“Illinois is already paying the price for past behavioral healthcare budget cuts.”

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