Senate Discusses Substance Use and Mental Health Disorders, Hints at Bipartisan Legislation

On March 23, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a hearing to discuss the national mental health and substance use disorder crisis and the federal programs being used to address these issues. The hearing, overseen by Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC), is one of many Congressional hearings held in the past few months focused on potential policy solutions related to mental health (see previous coverage for more details). The witnesses present at the hearing were Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Dr. Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, Administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Carole Johnson, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Dr. Joshua A. Gordon, and Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) within NIH Dr. Nora D. Volkow.

Committee Chair Murray focused her opening statement on the increasing suicide and drug overdose rates and the worrying rise in mental health crises across the country. Additionally, she acknowledged the extreme lack of mental health professionals in the U.S. and how to best address these issues through federal legislation. Ranking Member Burr focused his opening statement on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in exacerbating the mental health and substance use disorder crises that the U.S. is currently experiencing. The witness opening statements focused on what their respective federal agencies are doing to address these issues and ways in which the Committee can continue to support their missions. Many of the Committee members’ questions for the witnesses revolved around how to best support healthcare professionals and marginalized groups such as youths, veterans, communities of color, and rural communities. Additionally, the value of funding provided by the American Rescue Plan in supporting mental health and substance use treatment across the country was mentioned several times throughout the hearing. Chairwoman Murray stated that the Committee is working on a bipartisan package that would support substance use and mental health crises efforts across the country that will hopefully be released early Summer 2022. A recording of the hearing can be found on the Committee website.

This article was contributed by COSSA’s Spring Intern Sofi Cavenaile of the University of Texas, San Antonio.


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