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SAMHSA Is Taking ‘New Directions,’ Says Agency’s Leader

Wednesday, August 15, 2018  
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SAMHSA Is Taking ‘New Directions,’ Says Agency’s Leader

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is taking a new approach to helping people with serious mental illness (SMI), Elinore F. McCance-Katz, M.D., Ph.D., assistant secretary of mental health and substance use at the Department of Health and Human Services and head of SAMHSA, wrote in an article published today in Psychiatric Services in Advance. These efforts include a renewed focus on evidence-based, collaborative care and greater reliance on community resource providers, including peer support.

SAMHSA is also prioritizing the training of health care practitioners, working toward providing free national technical assistance to modernize the care and delivery of services, and funding innovative programs to address major mental health issues, in particular the opioid epidemic, wrote McCance-Katz, the first psychiatrist to head SAMHSA.

Mental health and substance use disorders affect more than 64 million Americans every year. “Never in the history of this country has there been a time of greater need for attention to these issues,” McCance-Katz wrote. “We are in the grip of an opioids crisis characterized by addiction and death such as we have never seen. Too often affecting our young people, the consequences of untreated mental illness and addiction have been tragic, frequently associated with violence and death.”

The agency’s new approach to SMI will be supported by the Interdepartmental Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee, a public-federal partnership aimed at improving services for adults and youth living with SMI. The agency will continue to focus on mental health court programs, assisted outpatient treatment, assertive community treatment, and the expansion of its successful Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics—now established in eight states—that provide integrated services as well as crisis care. The agency is also helping to expand suicide prevention programs. In 2016, more than 45,000 Americans died by suicide, a 30% increase in the past 15 years.

SAMHSA is prioritizing its training of health care practitioners and transforming its approach to one of evidence-based programs and practices. The agency is now working to build a national system of free or low-cost practical training available to any organization or provider. As part of that effort, SAMHSA had announced in July that APA is the grantee for its newly created national Clinical Support System for Serious Mental Illness. It will provide online training, webinars, and classroom-style training on evidence-based approaches to serious mental illness. A component of the system will focus on pharmacotherapy, including the use of clozapine, long-acting antipsychotics, and ways to address metabolic syndrome.

“SAMHSA will play a key role in establishing these new care approaches and in preparing the behavioral health workforce,” summed up McCance-Katz. “I look forward to both the challenges and the metamorphosis of our health care system for those living with mental and substance use disorders in the United States.”

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “McCance-Katz Leads Effort to Focus SAMHSA on Serious Mental Illness.”


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