Annapolis, MD – More than 300 advocates and families rallied to restore crucial funding for behavioral health services in Maryland’s budget Feb. 25. Legislative analysts estimate that since January, the behavioral health budget has been reduced by $23 million, through proposed budget measures from both Governor O’Malley and Governor Hogan.
“The large crowd here today shows the breadth of this movement,” said Dan Martin, government affairs director for the Mental Health Association of Maryland. “More than one million Marylanders live with a mental heath issue or substance use disorder. They need our help.”
Speakers included individuals who use or depend on behavioral health services, along with family members and health care providers. Several state elected officials also addressed the large crowd, including Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk and Senators Richard Madaleno, Thomas “Mac” Middleton and Addie Eckardt.
“Addiction affects us all,” said Toni Torsch, who attended the rally on behalf of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and lost her son to a drug overdose. “How can we say this is an epidemic and then take funding away for services?”
Advocates note that those who need mental health and substance use disorder treatment live among us, and that nearly all Marylanders have a friend, neighbor, family member or coworker who need behavioral health services. These include some of the most vulnerable Marylanders – military veterans, the elderly, people living in poverty and children.
“One in five children and youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder,” said Ann Geddes, director of public policy for the Maryland Coalition of Families for Children’s Mental Health. “Budget cutbacks are making it harder for these kids to get access to child psychiatrists. Families have to travel for hours or wait for months to get an appointment.”
The rally comes one day after Governor Hogan called a press release to highlight a growing heroin health emergency in Maryland. The Governor proposed a new task force, a coordinating commission and federal grant support, but did not propose additional funding for treatment.
“We’re in the middle of a public health emergency in Maryland,” said Dr. Nancy Rosen-Cohen, executive director of National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence – Maryland Chapter. “If we want to help stem this epidemic, we need more residential treatment, recovery support and prevention services, not another budget cut.”