COVID Relief Bill Includes $4.25 Billion For Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services

Liz Carey

Washington, D.C. (WorkersCompensation.com) – Recognizing the impact the Covid-19 pandemic is having on Americans’ mental health, Congress included more than $4 billion in funding for substance abuse and mental health services in the recently passed Covid relief package that was signed by President Trump.

Part of the more than $900 billion stimulus package passed last week, the bill funds treatment services for rapidly increasing drug use among Americans and rapidly decreasing mental states.

According to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 25 percent of the 5,400 Americans surveyed in June reported that they had experienced symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The CCC also reported on Friday, Dec. 18, that 2019 was the deadliest year for drug overdose deaths, with the total of drug overdose deaths increasing, even as the number of opioid-related overdose deaths decreased. Experts expect drug overdose deaths to climb even higher when the final numbers for 2020 come in, as data for the first half of this year has seen drug overdose deaths skyrocket when compared to 2019.

The CDC said that in the months between May 2019 and May 2020, the U.S. recorded 81,000 drug overdose deaths – the highest number ever recorded in a 12-month period. The numbers, officials at the CDC said, indicate COVID-19 is accelerating overdose deaths.

“The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield, M.D. “As we continue the fight to end this pandemic, it’s important to not lose sight of different groups being affected in other ways. We need to take care of people suffering from unintended consequences.”

A separate survey released in September by Recovery Village found that 36 percent of the 1,000 Americans it surveyed reported they had increased their illicit drug use in the prior month. Fifteen percent of the respondents said they were using opioids, while 37 percent said they were using marijuana. Cocaine, prescription stimulants and benzodiazepines, like Xanax, accounted for another 30 percent.

“Experts have already started to voice concerns on the secondary effects America is yet to see from COVID-19. Namely, there’s expected to be a rise in substance abuse throughout the pandemic and increased rates of addiction afterward due to the stress of isolation, boredom, decreased access to recovery resources and unemployment. In fact, there’s already preliminary evidence pointing to this outcome in the sharp increases in alcohol sales and demand for alcohol delivery,” the Recovery Village report said.

In the same survey, more than 50 percent of respondents said they had increased their past-month alcohol consumption, with 18 percent reporting a significant increase. In New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, areas hit hard during the summer by the coronavirus, past-month alcohol consumption was up 67 percent, with 25 percent reporting that they had seen a significant increase in their alcohol use.

More than half of the respondents said they were using the substances to cope with stress, while 39 percent said they used substances to relieve boredom and 32 percent said they were trying to cope with anxiety and depression.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, there are concerns about those workers and their mental health and substance abuse issues after the pandemic is over.

“Poor mental health due to burnout among front-line workers and increased anxiety or mental illness among those with poor physical health are also concerns. Those with mental illness and substance use disorders pre-pandemic, and those newly affected, will likely require mental health and substance use services. The pandemic spotlights both existing and new barriers to accessing mental health and substance use disorder services,” the KFF report said.

To address the substance abuse and mental health crisis, the second Covid relief package includes $4.25 billion in increased funding for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) including $1.6 billion for Substance Abuse and Prevention Treatment Block Grants, $1.65 billion for the Mental Health Services Block Grant; and $240 million for emergency grants to states, among other priorities.

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