Crist Hears of Risk of Cutbacks to Substance Abuse, Mental Health Services
By ANNE LINDBERG, TB Reporter
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist toured Operation PAR on Monday (May 8) and heard from its clients and staff about the need for addiction and mental health services.
PINELLAS COUNTY – Mike began using opiates in high school as a way to get high.
A high school athlete, he saw his plans for a military career after college go out the window because he decided he’d rather work and have money for pills so he could get high. But that money wasn’t enough and he began stealing, pawning his possessions and got himself into legal trouble.
He tried to get clean twice but eventually relapsed. And he started using heroin because it was cheaper than the oxycodone pills that became scarce as officials cracked down on the drug.
Then, he contacted Operation PAR where he is in the fourth month of a detox program. This time, he said he believes he’ll finally be free of a 11-year addiction that began when he was 17.
Some of the details changed, but Mike’s story was common for the clients and counselors at Operation PAR who took part in a roundtable discussion with U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, on Monday (May 8).
Crist asked for the roundtable to find out more about opioid addiction. His request came less than a week after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with the American Health Care Act. If the ACHA is eventually approved by the Senate and is signed into law as it is currently written, addiction and mental health programs like Operation PAR could see severe funding cuts.
And, under the budget proposed by President Donald Trump, the Office of National Drug Control Policy could lose 95 percent of its funding.
Those are harsh possibilities for an agency that’s already losing 10 of its beds because of other funding cutbacks. Operation PAR receives federal and state funds and also takes private patients.
The Department of Health and Human Services “would be devastated,” said Dr. Dianne Clarke, CEO of Operation PAR. Clarke, her voice laden with tears, thanked Crist for voting against the AHCA. Crist is a former board member of Operation PAR.
The health care bill, Crist said, “is a disaster. It’s a nightmare. That’s why I voted a big fat no.”
Crist predicted the AHCA would not pass the Senate as it is currently written. He also promised to continue fighting for adequate health care and for adequate funding of mental health care.
Operation PAR was founded in 1970 by Shirley Coletti after she found her teenage daughter experimenting with drugs and discovered there was no place to turn for help. Now Operation PAR has 400 employees and provides integrated addiction and mental health services at its various sites in Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, Manatee, Sarasota and Lee counties. It has residential treatment facilities in Pinellas and outpatient treatment facilities in Pinellas and the other counties it serves.
The agency is also known as being one of the few that allows addicted mothers to keep their babies with them while they are undergoing the program. Clarke said Operation PAR began doing so after realizing that women did not fare as well as men in residential treatment. That’s because they did not have their children with them. So the agency created a program to allow the babies to stay with their mothers.
For information about Operation PAR, go to operationpar.org.
Crist represents Florida’s 13th Congressional District, which includes mid- and south Pinellas County. For information about Crist, go to crist.house.gov.
Photo of Crist and Operation PAR CEO Dianne Clarke by Anne Lindberg, TB Reporter.
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