Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Cuts will impact substance abuse treatment programs

TALLAHASSEE -- Julie St. Clair kisses her 7-year-old son's head as she describes her life just two years ago when she smoked crack cocaine, lost her job and could not see her son.

She was in such bad shape, she walked into to the emergency room with thoughts of suicide.

Her fiance, Mike Gurin, 42, had an alcohol addiction that caused him to become homeless and resort to stealing Listerine from convenience stores for a taste of alcohol.

Their life today is a sharp contrast from the days before they entered treatment programs at Serenity House.

St. Clair, 33, works as a waitress at a diner in Daytona Beach and attends Daytona Beach Community College seeking a bachelor's in business administration. Gurin works as a waiter and a manager at a restaurant in the Volusia Mall.

But the treatment programs that got them back on track -- along with other substance abuse and mental health programs statewide -- are at risk because of millions of dollars of proposed budget cuts.

Lawmakers coping with a multi-billion-dollar revenue shortfall are making wide-ranging cuts this year, including large amounts now spent for health- and humans-services programs.

"It's a formula for disaster for our state and for people who are just basically hanging on," said Bob Butterworth, secretary for the state Department of Children & Families. "If this budget comes down the way it's coming down, we are going to see very, very serious repercussions."

Lawmakers are expected to begin negotiations this week on a spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The House has proposed deeper cuts than the Senate in substance abuse funding, including a $9.75 million cut in a program that provides treatment primarily to women who are trying to get off welfare, said Mark Fontaine, executive director of the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association.

The House also proposed cutting about $10.3 million from community programs that deal with substance abuse, mental health and other issues, Fontaine said.

The Stewart-Marchman Center, the area's largest substance abuse treatment agency, could lose about $1.3 million, which would cause service and program cuts across its adult services programs, including Project Warm, which lets mothers stay with their newborns and young children while going through treatment.

"These folks are going way overboard," said Chet Bell, chief executive officer at The Stewart-Marchman Center, the area's largest substance abuse treatment agency.

Randy Croy, Serenity House executive director, said his agency could lose about $500,000 if proposed cuts are approved.

If the funding cuts are made, Bell said, the state will end up spending "more money on hospitals, jails and they will put more people in the morgues."

The Senate proposes cutting about $4 million from adult substance abuse programs, but it would use one-time money to avoid making other cuts proposed by the House. But that one-year solution would leave agencies facing cuts again in 2009-10.

Those cuts along with proposals to cut child welfare funding, local and state officials fear, will cause an increase in child abuse cases.

"We already have a very small safety net, and that safety net is now going to be gone," DCF's Butterworth said.

Butterworth added that the proposals are "mean and it's nuts. It affects real people."

He said Gov. Charlie Crist gave legislators a road map to use trust funds to help with budget woes and the state should follow it.

House Healthcare Chairman Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, said substance abuse programs are like other areas of the health and human service budget that have taken cuts. He said it's "not that we didn't like them," but it just came down to a lack of available money.

"We're still looking to do all we can to restore (funding for) them," Bean said last week.

Proposed cuts also could heavily hit programs funded through the state Department of Corrections, including local programs run by Serenity House and Act Corp. The House has proposed cutting $31 million starting in July for the department's substance abuse programs, said Gretl Plessinger, a spokeswoman for the agency.

St. Clair and Gurin, who met at Serenity House and plan to marry in September, said they can't imagine where they'd be without the help they received.

They spend their weekends enjoying time with St. Clair's son, Cameron Dicus, which includes attending church and watching him bowl in a league. They've lived the past 10 months in their rented condo, one of 15 Serenity House owns throughout Volusia County. The agency rents on a sliding scale to people who have successfully completed treatment programs.

"They saved my life, but I had to do the work," Gurin said. "They build up your self esteem and confidence."

St. Clair, who had abused drugs since she was 15, now receives medication and treatment for bipolar disorder from Act. Serenity House also still checks on the couple, including doing random drug testing.

"I never knew it could be this good," St. Clair said, looking down at her son, whom she now sees every Wednesday and every weekend.

source: Daytona Beach News Journal

No comments: