U.S. Senate Passes Landmark Bill with Significant Funding for Mental Health and Substance Use Care

The U.S. Senate passed the 21st Century Cures Act (H.R. 34), a $4.8 billion bipartisan bill that includes provisions from the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2016 (H.R. 2646) and the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 (S. 2680), as well as language from the Mental Health and Safe Communities Act of 2015 (S. 2002) and the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act (S. 993).

"We are very excited about this historic legislation and that it will be signed by President Obama, as he had indicated in a statement soon after the Senate passed the bill," said Debra Wentz, Ph.D., President and CEO of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies (NJAMHAA). "This bill includes Congress' first approval of funding to address the nation's growing opioid epidemic and by far makes the most extensive changes to the U.S. mental health system in more than 10 years. It has been heartening to hear President Obama and our Congressional delegates express their shared concerns for individuals with mental illnesses and substance use disorders and passage of this landmark bill builds confidence that these devastating illnesses, as well as cancer and other serious physical diseases, will get the research and treatment focus they need to ultimately be cured."

The legislation includes $1 billion in funding to address the opioid addiction crisis; about $1.6 billion for research on treatments for Alzheimer's and other brain diseases; $1.4 billion for President Obama's "precision medicine" initiative; and $1.8 billion is dedicated to Vice President Joe Biden's "cancer moonshot" program. The law also reauthorizes mental health programs overseen by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, including the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, which provides grants to states for suicide prevention. In addition, the bill calls for the establishment of a suicide prevention technical assistance center and a new suicide prevention and intervention program for individuals aged 25 years and older; and will provide grants to support integration of pediatric mental health care into primary care.

In addition to these treatment and research funding provisions, H.R. 34 raises the stature of mental health and substance use disorder services at the federal level by creating an Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use; authorizes grants for Crisis Intervention Training programs, which instruct law enforcement personnel and other first responders on interacting appropriately with individuals with mental illnesses and substance use disorders (SUDs) to prevent incarceration. Of utmost importance, the law will require new federal guidance on compliance with mental health and SUD parity requirements and fund programs to strengthen the mental health and SUD workforce.

"All of these initiatives are greatly needed, as they will give individuals with mental illnesses and substance use disorders opportunities to manage these illnesses while addressing physical health conditions. As a result, be able to pursue other goals to create meaningful lives for themselves," Dr. Wentz said. "NJAMHAA applauds and thanks our federal leaders for making mental health and substance use care priorities and taking action through this momentous legislation."

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