Guest column | Darlene Linville

Drug overdose death exposes flaws in mental health care system

Her name was Alice.

Or maybe Tom or Mary or Sam.

She moved among us going from agency to hospital, from friend to family and back again. She took her mental illness to the streets to try to ease the pain, always looking for something to stop the anxiety and the depression.

She's not looking anymore, she died last week. There were too many chemicals in her body, some of them prescribed by the many hospitals and doctors she saw and some purchased from people who called her friend. We'll never know, nor do we need to know, if her death was accidental or intentional. The result is the same. Alice is gone, one of Hernando County's "one death a week due to drug overdose" statistic. Prescription drugs, alcohol and brain disease is a lethal combination.

The mental health system in Florida failed her. Most significantly, the system in Hernando County failed her. So did I. So did her family. So did her friends. The new prescription drug rules are a start, but as the saying goes, it's too little too late, especially for Alice.

The newly formed Hernando County Community Anti-Drug Coalition is another start, I pray that it helps.

She was in her 40s, born in Pennsylvania, moved here after a rocky childhood to be with her parents who, like so many of us, moved to Florida to enjoy the sunshine in their retirement years. She brought her illness and her need for drugs to Hernando County, was stable for a few years, made friends and became involved. The death of a family member caused her life to unravel. Suicide attempts were numerous; hospital stays in two counties were too many to remember and the pills were too easy to get.

Doctors, hospitals, therapists, families and friends; no one saw a need to find long-term, residential treatment for her, probably because it's so hard to find and then, too often, only for those who have excellent insurance. Maybe that would have been the answer, but we have funding for only two or three days' worth of treatment. Who's fooling who here? Brain disease, alcohol and drug abuse can't be cured in two or three days. Our county jail is full of people who have been failed by the system.

When will the people who make the decisions realize that up-front, immediate treatment for any disease saves money and lives and that available, affordable, long-term residential treatment is sometimes the only answer? Current Hernando County facilities do the very best they can with limited resources.

I'm sad and I'm angry. This is my home and I want it to be a better place for people like Alice. When you see Alice tell her we tried, we just didn't try hard enough.

Darlene Linville of Spring Hill is past president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Hernando.

Drug overdose death exposes flaws in mental health care system 09/10/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 9, 2011 6:24pm]

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