To the editor:There is a countdown to helping — or harming — Alaska’s most vulnerable people. If the Legislature does not take action in the first five days of the 2020 legislative session, thousands of Alaskans face losing mental health and substance abuse treatment. Chances are we all know someone afflicted with mental illness or addiction.
If we genuinely value public safety and public health, then we must make addiction and behavioral health treatment a statewide priority. We cannot afford to go backward.
The governor vetoed $6.1 million in behavioral health treatment and recovery grants to community programs and $10 million for addiction treatment facilities. Law enforcement officials will tell you the importance of treatment. When the Legislature convenes on Jan. 21, 2020, we have five days to overturn these vetoes. This will not happen unless your legislator hears from you.
Public outcry over the rise in crime drove changes to sentencing laws last session. However, if we fail to address addiction and mental health, we will continue to react to crime instead of addressing it head-on. The number of crimes committed by individuals battling addiction or suffering from mental health issues are alarmingly high.
I urge you to speak with your legislator about need to overturn the vetoes for the behavioral health treatment and recovery grants in the operating budget and the funds for addiction treatment facilities in the capital budget.