Sen. Hawley urges HHS to address rising drug abuse, mental health crisis

Sen. Hawley urges HHS to address rising drug abuse, mental health crisis

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) urged Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to use money allocated by the CARES Act to address rising drug abuse and mental health issues in a letter Monday.

According to Hawley, the CARES Act appropriated $425 million to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to boost services during the CoVID-19 pandemic. Hawley asked Azar to continue deploying those resources and to use the funding to assist state health departments, local officials, and health care professionals during this public health emergency.

“I’ve seen reports from across Missouri describing significant increases in Narcan (Naloxone) doses deployed by emergency service providers to combat drug overdoses,” Hawley wrote. “I am concerned that increases in social isolation, anxiety, and despair due to the pandemic may be contributing to surges in drug addiction. As your Department continues to take unprecedented action to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, I urge you to also address the mental health needs of those Americans impacted by pandemic-related disruptions.”

According to recent reports, approximately 53 percent of U.S. adults have reported that stress and worry brought about by the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health. Additionally, data suggests that untreated substance abuse is increasing, while access to treatment is decreasing. According to the American Medical Association, at least 40 states have reported increases in opioid-related deaths.

Hawley said he was encouraged by SAMHSA’s rapid disbursement of $14 million in CARES funding to Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics, as well as establishing an emergency grant program targeted at suicide prevention, but asked Sec. Azar to do more.

“I ask that you build upon these previous efforts and engage all appropriate divisions within the Department to develop guidelines and resources to assist state health departments, local officials, and practitioners seeking to treat mental health disorders and drug addiction in light of the coronavirus pandemic,” Hawley wrote. “I further request that you provide my office with a report on the Department’s work in this area using CARES Act resources along with any legislative recommendations that may be necessary to address the unique mental health needs of Americans during this public health emergency.”