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Pres. Biden Presents Historic Plans to Address the National Mental Health and Addictions Crises


March 3, 2022

President Joe Biden delivered his first State of the Union Address yesterday. In a statement released last night after the President's speech, the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies' (NJAMHAA's) President and CEO Debra L. Wentz, Ph.D, thanked "President Biden profusely for highlighting our nation's mental health crisis in such a historic manner during his State of the Union Address." She noted that, his "vision to address [the mental health and addictions] crises is broad, addressing services from infancy, in schools, for the justice involved, with navigators and more."

The President began his Address by speaking of support for Ukraine and new steps to be taken to isolate Russia, and finished with highlights from his "Unity Agenda", four areas where bipartisan support is evident and where he hopes Congress can move relatively quickly to implement his proposals. The four headings on the Unity Agenda are: Addressing Addiction and the Overdose Epidemic; Address Our National Mental Health Crisis; Support our Veterans; and End Cancer as We Know It. Each area has multiple approaches, only a few of which President Biden actually mentioned in his Address.

Regarding addictions, there are three categories of proposals: Increasing Funding for Public Health and Supply Reduction; Removing Barriers to Treatment; and Reducing Harm and Saving Lives. President Biden proposed an investment of $10.7 billion in discretionary funding for research, prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery support services, stating, "I believe in recovery, and I celebrate the 23 million Americans in recovery." He also mentioned removing barriers to treatment, including eliminating outdated rules that prevent physicians from prescribing medications that treat substance use disorders. Harm reduction strategies include prioritizing funds in this area; supporting syringe services; elevating harm-reduction best practices; and looking to expand distribution of naloxone. More detail can be found in the White House's Fact Sheet: Addressing Addiction and the Overdose Epidemic.

In his remarks, President Biden focused on children's mental health with much attention to curbing social media's advertising to them and privacy protections. However, his strategy to address the national mental health crisis is rather broad and fairly comprehensive. He wishes to "get all Americans the mental health services they need" in three ways: strengthening system capacity; connecting Americans to care; and supporting Americans by creating healthy environments. Proposals for building system capacity include investing $700 million in workforce programs, including the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program; building a national certification program for peer specialists; and expanding and making permanent Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs), a program NJAMHAA has championed since its inception. The President's plan also includes investing an additional nearly $700 million to staff and strengthen crisis response services.

To connect Americans to care, the Administration has plans to expand and strengthen parity measures; integrate mental health and substance use treatment into primary care with a particular focus on same-day access for veterans; and expand access to telehealth options, as well as supports in schools, colleges and universities. There are also plans to build "easy-to-access, user-friendly online treatment locator tools" to assist individuals in navigating resources.

Under the heading of creating healthy environments, there are several proposals to rein in the impacts of social media on children and youth, and proposed investments in "youth mental health services, including more than $70 million in infant and early childhood mental health programs" and over $400 million for Community Schools in the FY2023 budget. Increased mental health resources for justice-involved populations are also proposed. More detail on the President's plans to address the nation's mental health crisis can be found in this White House fact sheet.

NJAMHAA President and CEO Debra Wentz took note of "the many points of intersection to provide prevention and treatment…, and that [the President's] vision strives to meet everyone "where they are". Dr. Wentz added, "We are greatly encouraged by the increased attention to and investment in prevention, treatment and supports for mental health and substance use disorders that the President's strategy encompasses, and look forward with excitement to working to see this momentous and vital plan implemented."

It is important to note that many of these proposals will require Congressional action. Please watch for and respond to NJAMHAA legislative alerts to help move them all to fruition.

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