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Jack Latvala, Kathleen Peters file mental health reform legislation

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Clearwater Republican Sen. Jack Latvala and South Pasadena Rep. Kathleen Peters held a press conference Monday to announce a pair of bills that would make mental health and substance abuse services more available to Floridians.

Latvala and Peters’ legislation aims integrate the state’s mental health services to create a culture of access through any door, and would also attack the shortage of mental health professionals in the state.

“Florida’s jails and prisons have far too many inmates who are afflicted and their incarceration is often the result of an act relating to their illness,” said Latvala. “We know that prevention and intervention is the most successful way to combat any illness and the unintended consequences that result from that illness.”

Peters said Florida’s “lack of access to an effective coordinated system of care is leaving far too many individuals suffering in silence, losing their families or worse, losing their lives to suicide, drug overdose or actions initiated by a psychotic episode,” calling new legislation a “catalyst to creating a truly effective behavioral health system.”

The Pinellas County lawmakers noted that one out of five people in Florida prisons and jails, as well as 70 percent of those in the juvenile justice system, have a mental condition in their medical history. Additionally, 72 percent of adults in homeless shelters are suffering from severe mental illnesses or substance abuse disorders.

“This is the first step to ensuring Floridians suffering from mental illness and/or substance addiction can improve their ability to have healthy relationships, make good life choices, maintain physical health as well as handle the ups and downs of life while growing towards their potential,” she said.

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for SaintPetersBlog and FloridaPolitics.com. While at the University of Florida, Wilson was an editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and after graduation, he moved to Los Angeles to cover business deals for The Hollywood Reporter. Before joining Extensive Enterprises, Wilson covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools.

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