Thursday, January 15, 2021
OKLAHOMA CITY – Twenty-eight members of the Oklahoma Legislature today announced the formation of a bipartisan, bicameral legislative caucus to serve as a forum for legislators to discuss bipartisan solutions to the state’s ongoing mental health and addiction crisis.
The caucus, co-chaired by Rep. Josh West, R-Grove, and Sen. Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City, will convene monthly during legislative session to stay informed on key mental health issues and discuss ideas for improving care and systems in Oklahoma.
“Mental health and addiction are bipartisan issues that impact every Oklahoman in some way,” West said. “No matter your background or politics, whether you’re rural or urban, you’ve seen the devastating impacts of untreated mental health and addiction. So many of us have seen it in our own families or communities. This issue can and should unite us all.”
Kirt added, “It’s so important that we come together now, at the height of this crisis. With the stress and hardship of the global pandemic, mental health and addiction issues have grown to levels we’ve never seen as a state. This impacts every issue we deal with at the Capitol, from education to health and criminal justice.”
One in five Oklahomans had a mental health condition prior to COVID-19. Now an estimated 40% of Oklahomans are experiencing anxiety and depression, and the CDC reports that Oklahoma opioid overdoses have increased by more than 50% in the last 12 months. Due to an increase in the trauma associated with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), the risk of childhood mental health conditions also has elevated.
Untreated mental illness and addiction leads to increasing costs for government and the private sector, less economic growth, and poorer educational and health outcomes. Nearly 60% of Oklahomans in need of treatment last year did not receive it, according to Mental Health America.
The Oklahoma Legislature will consider a number of bills and funding issues in 2021 that will shape the future of this issue, including agency funding, Medicaid changes, telehealth and mental health parity, law enforcement and first responder supports, and school-based services. This caucus will discuss and review key ideas with access to available data, national best practices and state experts.
Caucus membership is open to any interested legislators. The caucus will make available virtual attendance, practice social distancing, and will comply with health and safety guidelines as well as any protocols established for handling meetings during legislative session.