Chuck Ingoglia, president and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health, agrees with Trump administration officials that a substance abuse health crisis is in the future of the United States because of COVID-19.
According to news reports, Elinore McCance-Katz, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use for the Trump administration and director of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), warned Trump administration officials “If we ignore the reality of the enormous mental health strain we’ve put on our citizens… I’m saddened but certain that the next major public health crisis of our time will be that of mental and substance use disorders, and it is not far behind.”
In a statement issued after McCance-Katz made her remarks, Ingoglia said his organization agrees.
“We absolutely agree with Dr. McCance-Katz that a large-scale public health catastrophe is just around the corner as millions of people living with mental illness or addiction are poised to flood health centers, urgent care facilities, and emergency departments, all of which are already over-burdened,” he said. “And we believe policymakers have not only the opportunity but also the obligation to respond aggressively now to prevent that crisis.”
Ingoglia said, however, that the nation was not prepared to handle the coming crisis. With Community Behavioral Health Organizations (CBHOs) in jeopardy of financially failing because of the pandemic, reopening the country without ensuring the behavioral health system is equipped to deal with increased demand would irresponsible, he said.
In April, his organization joined a chorus of mental and behavioral health organizations to ask Congress for more than $38 billion in the next COVID-19 economic relief package to help CBHOs stay open. Those groups said the money was needed to stabilize the system and ensure mental health and addiction treatment services continued. Additionally, according to SAMHSA, calls in March to the national mental health hotline increased 891 percent over the same period in 2019. Mental and behavioral health organizations say that suggests that CBHOs will see an onslaught of patients in crisis once restrictions are lifted.
“Time is running out, and the stakes have never been higher. If we hope to prevent a second crisis – the collapse of the behavioral health care system – then policymakers must act quickly,” Ingoglia said.