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Substance Abuse/Mental Health Services Suffering From Underfunding In Florida

TAMPA BAY (CW44 News At 10) - In such unprecedented times, alcohol and substance abuse patient numbers have inevitably become a focus in healthcare. In the Tampa Bay region, Central Florida Behavioral Health Network is one place of refuge for those struggling with COVID-19 Isolation, substance abuse and many other issues.

"People call in primarily because they're stressed, they lost their job, they're sitting at home, drinking, using drugs and it's really starting to catch up with them," said Linda McKinnon, President/CEO, Central Florida Behavioral Health Network. "We have been dealing for the last couple years with opioid abuse, of course methamphetamine," said Mckinnon.

Pinellas County, in particular, is seeing an uptick in substance abusers according to CFBHN.

"E.R.s and the hospitals are starting to see a surge in people coming in mainly related to bad methamphetamine. And the other, Pinellas County is sort of specific with this, we have not really been able to address the  surge with fentanyl," said McKinnon.

So Tuesday, Pinellas County officials announced they're funding $40,000 in government grant to local substance abuse program providers to help fight the issue. But the McKinnon explains that a grant this size is merely a drop in the bucket. In fact, it's hardly comparable to amounts in annual funding the state has recently received to solve the drug and alcohol abuse problem.

"This particular grant is not a large amount of money and it really, on it's own wouldn't address a whole lot of issues, [like] detox to residential care to outpatient, group," said McKinnon.

Total state and federal funding for substance abuse treatment reached more than $174 million from 2019 - 2020, according to CFBHN. The Network provides the money as a safety net for families who don't have insurance or any other resources. The CFBHN received just over $69 million to grant the 14 counties in their Suncoast Region. Of this amount, Pinellas County received more than $9 million for adult substance abuse treatment and over $2 million for children's substance abuse treatment totaling over $11 million in funding for the county.

"And that is targeted directly to opioid overdose. The Feds have just changed that so that next year we'll be able to expand that and work with people on methamphetamine and other drugs, because we know it's not just one drug," said McKinnon.

And while this amount seems sustainable, McKinnon says Florida is among the most underfunded states when it comes to mental health and substance abuse.

"We have been for many many years. We're considered, 48, 49, or 50th in the nation and have to spread our funds to try to ensure a safety net," said McKinnon.

Since COVID-19, of course traditional patient care has changed. McKinnon says in January, the CFBHN provided about 1,158 telehealth services, and by the end of April, they provided more than 54,000 telehealth service calls.


If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, call this free helpline at 844 MYFLHLP (844-693-5457)

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