03.23.22

Senator Murray Continues Bipartisan Progress On Addressing Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Crises: “We Need to Rise to This Moment”

Murray holds HELP hearing, continues to make headway on legislation to support communities and help people get care for mental health and substance use disorders

 

Senator Murray: “We need to rise to the moment by strengthening the tools communities are already using effectively to help people get care, and providing new ones to address the gaps and emerging issues this pandemic has made so much worse.”

 

*** WATCH: SENATOR MURRAY’S OPENING REMARKS HERE ***

  

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, led a hearing focused on how the federal government can better support frontline efforts to address the mental health and substance use disorder crises that have been exacerbated by COVID-19 and have touched communities across our country.

 

At the hearing, which is informing her ongoing work with Senator Burr to bolster federal support for mental health and substance use disorder services, Senator Murray reiterated her goal to put together a package in early summer that: supports suicide screening and prevention, helps schools and communities meet kids’ mental health needs, reduces drug overdose deaths, gives patients more options to get substance use disorder treatment, addresses the mental health needs of new mothers, and tackles barriers that make it hard for people to get the care they need—like stigma, health inequity, a strained workforce, and more.

 

“Now we aren’t starting from square one here—we have a long bipartisan track record of addressing mental health and substance use disorders in this Committee. But we also are not close to where we need to be. We need to rise to the moment by strengthening the tools communities are already using effectively to help people get care, and providing new ones to address the gaps and emerging issues this pandemic has made so much worse,” said Senator Murray. “As ranking member Burr and I have announced, it is our goal to pull the Committee’s mental health package together in early summer so we can move legislation to the floor.”

 

Senator Murray underscored the severity of these crises, noting that youth mental health emergencies have skyrocketed during the pandemic, causing a sharp increase in kids’ visits to the emergency room—especially among girls. According to recently-released estimates, there were a record 106,000 drug overdose deaths in a single year, fentanyl continues to devastate communities, and there is a concerning rise in methamphetamine and cocaine use nationwide. Meanwhile, the professionals addressing these crises are stretched thinner than ever.

 

“We are all hearing from families in our states about the need for action—parents worried about their kids’ wellbeing after the stress and trauma of this pandemic. People struggling with depression and anxiety themselves and unsure where to get help. Communities fighting a rise in substance use, as well as a surge in overdose deaths, fueled by a deadly increase in fentanyl use. And mental health and substance use disorder professionals who are feeling overworked, overwhelmed, and just burnt out,” said Senator Murray. “We all want to address these challenges, which is why Senator Burr and I are working in a bipartisan way on legislation to support our communities, and help people get the services for mental health and substance use disorders they need.”

 

The hearing included testimony from Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, Ph.D., Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; Carole Johnson, Administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration; Joshua A. Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the National Institute of Mental Health at the National Institutes of Health; and Nora D. Volkow, M.D., Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health.

 

Senator Murray’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:

 

“I hope everyone on this Committee found our hearing in February with mental health and substance use disorder experts, care providers, and advocates to be informative and compelling.

 

“We are all hearing from families in our states about the need for action.

 

“Parents worried about their kids’ wellbeing after the stress and trauma of this pandemic.

 

“People struggling with depression and anxiety themselves and unsure where to get help.

 

“Communities fighting a rise in substance use, as well as a surge in overdose deaths, fueled by a deadly increase in fentanyl use and mental health.

 

“And substance use disorder professionals who are feeling overworked, overwhelmed, and just burnt out. 

 

“We all want to address these challenges. Which is why Senator Burr and I are working in a bipartisan way on legislation to support our communities, and help people get the services for mental health and substance use disorders they need.

 

“We continue to make progress on that effort, and our hearing today represents another important step forward.

 

“I spoke last time about the work Lifeline Connections, Neighborhood House, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, and other local organizations are doing to address the mental health needs of families in Washington state.

 

“And I’m glad to have this opportunity to discuss how the federal government can better support frontline efforts to screen and provide services for mental health challenges, support people struggling with substance use disorder, increase access to addiction treatment, prevent drug overdoses and suicide, and more.

 

“Because COVID-19 has made it clearer than ever, that while our communities are doing valuable, lifesaving work, we need to do so much more to help them.

“Youth health emergencies have skyrocketed during this pandemic—with sharp increases in kids’ visits to the emergency room for mental health crises, thoughts of suicide, and suicide attempts—especially among girls.

 

“And as of February, over 200,000 children have had their world shattered after losing a parent or caregiver to COVID-19.

 

“This pandemic has also set us back catastrophically when it comes to substance use disorders.

 

“We saw an estimated 106,000 drug overdose deaths in a single year—a record high.

 

“And fentanyl has been especially devastating for families in my state—with fentanyl deaths in our largest county doubling last year.

 

“But nationally we’re also seeing a concerning rise in methamphetamine and cocaine use.

 

“Meanwhile, our mental health and substance use disorder workforce—which was already stretched thin—is nearly threadbare.

 

“I’ve said this before, but it really stands out to me that almost 130 million Americans live in areas with less than one mental health care provider per 30 thousand people. And in my home state of Washington, our mental health care workforce is only able to meet 17 percent of our state’s needs.

 

“Meanwhile, nationwide, not even a tenth of people who need treatment for substance use disorder actually get it.

 

“And these problems are especially pronounced for rural areas, communities of color, and people with disabilities.

 

“And it’s important to remember that the many people who are personally facing mental health and substance use disorders, or struggling to get the support they need aren’t the only ones feeling this.

 

“We all have friends and family who are—whether we realize it or not.

 

“We all rely on first responders, health care providers, and other frontline workers who are experiencing burnout and trauma.

 

“We all have a stake in making sure people can get the help they need.

“So let’s make sure we act accordingly.

 

“Now we aren’t starting from square one here—we have a long bipartisan track record of addressing mental health and substance use disorders in this Committee.

 

“But we also are not close to where we need to be—especially considering the ways this pandemic has worsened pre-existing challenges.

 

“We need to rise to the moment by strengthening the tools communities are already using effectively to help people get care, and providing new ones to address the gaps and emerging issues this pandemic has made so much worse. 

 

“That means putting together a bipartisan package that supports suicide screening and prevention, helps schools and communities meet kids’ mental health needs, reduces drug overdose deaths and gives patients more options to get substance use disorder treatment, addresses the mental health needs of new mothers, tackles barriers that make it hard for people to get the care they need—like stigma, health inequity, and a strained workforce, and more.

“I know members on both sides of the aisle share these goals and have ideas for how to make them a reality, and I look forward to continuing our work on this. 

 

“As ranking member Burr and I have announced, it is our goal to pull the Committee’s mental health package together in early summer so we can move legislation to the floor. 

 

“We both hope to have more to say on that in the days ahead, and appreciate the many ideas members on and off the Committee have for the package as we work together to address this crisis.

 

“This pandemic has done so much damage to our nation’s mental wellbeing. There are so many people who are stressed, anxious, or traumatized, who are struggling with addiction, who are grieving after the loss of a loved one, and who don’t know where to turn.

 

“But there are also people in our communities who care about them, and who are working right now to get them help.

 

“So, as this Committee works on bipartisan legislation to reauthorize and improve federal programs on mental health and substance use disorder, I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today about the steps we can take to bolster the efforts of those on the frontlines of our mental health and substance use disorder crises. And make sure every person who is struggling can get the care they need without worrying about stigma or about the cost, without having to travel for hours or wait for weeks, and without feeling like they’re all on their own.

 

“Now I’ll turn it over to Senator Burr for his opening remarks.”

 

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