More services needed for mental health, substance abuse

by Jessica Garvin

October 18, 2022

From the Desk of Sen. Jessica Garvin

It doesn't matter what your socio-economic background is, which neighborhood you live in, or which church or school you attend -- addiction is everywhere. Between 2016 and 2020, more than 3,300 Oklahomans died of an unintentional drug overdose. On average, 12 Oklahomans die every week from these types of overdoses and 90 are hospitalized.

Opioid addiction is the number one cause of unintentional deaths not only in Oklahoma, but across the nation. Meth, illicit fentanyl, and prescription opioids are the main culprits.

While the Legislature has made great strides addressing this crisis, more must be done, especially for our youth whose overdose numbers have exploded since 2020. Previously, most cases were adults but we’re seeing more minors falling victim to addiction and overdoses, especially with fentanyl-laced pills.

Fentanyl is 50-100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin. While it can be sold as powders and nasal sprays, it’s increasingly being pressed into pills to look like legitimate prescription opioids.

In the past year, I’ve heard from numerous parents desperate to find their kids help. It seems Oklahoma has very few facilities that offer rehab and detox services for minors. I held an interim study last week to learn how Oklahoma can better help these families and prevent further senseless deaths. Speakers included parents, teens, and representatives from the Department of Human Services, Youth Services of Tulsa, and drug treatment centers.

We learned that 40% of Oklahoma youth who need mental health services and 80% who need substance abuse services are not receiving them. Around 66% of boys and almost 75% of girls in juvenile detention have at least one mental health disorder. Like the rest of the state, the Office of Juvenile Affairs has seen a significant increase in substance abuse issues among adolescents in placement.

During the meeting, I shared a letter from Jamie Langston, a single mother who lost one of her sons, Jaden, to an overdose just days after graduating and before his 18th birthday. An adult gave her child something laced with fentanyl. She told how her sweet, straight-A student simply got in with the wrong crowd. He had multiple run-ins with the law, but they just kept bringing him home, saying they wouldn’t arrest him and put him in court-ordered rehab until he was 18. She worked with Stephanie Morcom, founder of HopeFirst, who also works with Ambrosia Treatment Center in Florida. Together, they called numerous Oklahoma facilities, but Jamie either couldn’t afford the treatment or made too much to get into a program. So, they started calling out-of-state facilities, but they were only open to residents. Her story of hopelessness is all too common, and we have to change that. Parents should easily be able to find their children the help they need close to home.

Our presenters recommended that Oklahoma needs to develop sober living programs for adolescents; develop and/or expand adolescent detox programs; and expand substance abuse inpatient and outpatient programs, especially in rural areas. They also suggested using data tracking systems to monitor trends and outcomes while considering increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also recommend that states need to expand the use of naloxone and overdose prevention education; and expand access to and provision of treatment for substance use disorders. It also suggests early intervention with individuals at the highest risk for overdose; and to improve detection of overdose outbreaks due to fentanyl, novel psychoactive substances, or other drugs to facilitate an effective response.

Given these horrible trends and that nine out of ten adults with substance use disorders started using before turning 18, it’s imperative that we invest more resources to address juvenile addiction and greatly expand available services. I’ll be working to address the overdose crisis in the coming session so please contact me with any ideas or suggestions you may have. We must utilize and coordinate the services we have – public, private, and nonprofit – and expand them to stop this epidemic.

Contact information:

Senator Jessica Garvin, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 237, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, email me at or call (405) 521-5522.

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