Policy News Roundup: October 6, 2022

    Key reads

    House passes Mental Health Matters Act

    The House of Representatives passed the Mental Health Matters Act, largely along party lines. Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (PA) was the only Republican to join all Democrats in supporting it. The bill would provide grants to establish a pipeline for school-based mental health service professionals, grow the number of mental health experts at elementary and secondary schools in high-need areas and recruit and maintain school-based mental health providers at public elementary and secondary schools that are high need. The bill would also allow the Department of Labor to levy civil monetary penalties on health insurance plan sponsors for violating parity, which some Republicans opposed. It would also bolster access for students to evidence-based trauma support and mental health services through projects that connect schools and local education agencies with trauma-informed assistance and mental health systems.

    Source: House passes bill addressing mental health concerns among students, families, educators (The Hill)

    October is National Youth Substance Use Prevention Month

    President Biden proclaimed October 2022 National Youth Substance Use Prevention Month. The proclamation explains the toll of addiction and the benefit of prevention programs. It highlights administration actions such as $4 billion in American Rescue Plan funds to expand mental health and addiction services and help school districts increase the number of social workers on staff; $3.1 billion in National Drug Control funding proposed in the FY 2023 budget for prevention, nearly $850 million more than last year; more than $120 billion provided for tutoring, mental health and afterschool programs; support for Drug-Free Communities; efforts to ensure states leverage Medicaid to support schools providing mental health and substance use care; and work to ensure parity. It calls on everyone to reach out to young people to help share information, promote healthy lifestyles and help transform lives through evidence-based substance use prevention.

    Source: A Proclamation on National Youth Substance Use Prevention Month, 2022 (White House)

    Federal news

    Senate Finance Committee introduces bills to expand mental health workforce

    Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Steve Daines (R-MT) introduced five bills to expand the mental health workforce as part of the Senate Finance Committee’s bipartisan mental health initiative. The Training Psychiatrists for the Future Act would add 400 new physician residency positions per year funded by Medicare to teaching hospitals for training new physicians in psychiatry and psychiatry subspecialties. The More Behavioral Health Providers Act would expand Medicare’s Health Professional Shortage Area bonus program to attract more mental health care providers to shortage areas. The Expand Qualified Psychologists Act would make it easier for patients to see psychologist trainees by providing flexibility in Medicare’s direct supervision requirements. The Protect our Physicians Act will expand mental health and wellness programs for physicians suffering from burnout. The Expand the Behavioral Health Workforce Now Act would require Medicaid to produce new guidance to states on increasing the mental health workforce.

    Source: Senators Stabenow, Daines Lead Effort to Expand Mental Health Workforce (Debbie Stabenow)

    HRSA announces $27 million for pediatric mental health care

    The Health Resources and Services Administration announced nearly $27 million from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and American Rescue Plan to improve and expand mental health care for children through the Pediatric Mental Health Care Access Program. The program facilitates pediatric primary care providers’ virtual consultations with pediatric mental health specialists to better diagnose, treat and refer youth to mental health services. The program supports pediatric primary care providers including pediatricians, family medicine physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act allows the program to also support school-based and emergency department providers. Forty-eight program awardees will each receive $300,000 from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act as a down-payment on expansion. Three national organizations will receive a total of $3.2 million to provide technical assistance to grantees to expand and improve behavioral health services in pediatric practices, schools and emergency departments. New programs will be launched with multi-year American Rescue Plan funding totaling nearly $9 million.

    Source: HHS Invests Nearly $27 Million to Expand Support for Pediatric Mental Health Care (Department of Health and Human Services)

    Department of Education announces funding to support mental health services and healthy learning environments in schools

    The Department of Education is releasing Notices Inviting Applications for two grant programs to increase access to mental health services for students and young people, totaling $280 million from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and FY 2022 Omnibus Appropriations. The School-Based Mental Health Services grant program provides funding to schools to increase the number of credentialed school-based mental health professionals. The Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration grant program supports districts in hiring additional school-based mental health service providers in high-need districts by boosting the mental health profession pipeline, including investing in partnerships between school districts and institutions of higher education. The department also announced nearly $1 billion through the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act’s Stronger Connections program to help schools provide students with safe and supportive learning opportunities and environments.

    Source: Hundreds of Millions of Dollars in Funds to Increase the Number of School-Based Mental Health Providers in Schools Provided Through the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act; Midwest Region: Department Awards Nearly $1 Billion to 56 States and Territories to Provide Students with Safer and Healthier Learning Environments (Department of Education)

    SAMHSA awards $45 million to meet behavioral health needs of people at risk for and living with HIV/AIDS

    The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is awarding $45.1 million in grants to meet the behavioral health needs of people at risk for contracting or who are living with HIV/AIDS. This includes $30.4 million to increase engagement in care for racially/ethnically underrepresented individuals who have mental health and/or substance use disorders (SUD) who are at risk of contracting or who are living with HIV/AIDS and receive HIV/AIDS services; $5.5 million to provide SUD and HIV prevention services to racial/ethnic minority males at risk for HIV/AIDS, focusing on males who have sex with males and those who identify as LQBTQ+ who are not in stable housing and reside in communities with high incidence rates of HIV; and $9.2 million to provide resources to help reduce the co-occurring epidemics of HIV, hepatitis and mental health disorders through accessible, evidence-based, culturally appropriate mental health and addiction treatment integrated with HIV primary care and prevention services.

    Source: SAMHSA Awards $45.1 Million to Help Meet Behavioral Health Needs of People Who Are at Risk for or Are Living with HIV/AIDS (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)

    State and local news

    Massachusetts warns skilled nursing facilities not to discriminate against people with OUD

    The U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts sent a letter to all skilled nursing facilities in the state warning that refusing to provide care for persons with opioid use disorder violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and that the U.S. Attorney’s Office will aggressively enforce these protections. Since 2018, the Office has entered into 10 settlement agreements with entities owning a total of 51 skilled nursing facilities for refusing to admit individuals prescribed medications for opioid use disorder.

    Source: U.S. Attorney’s Office Warns Skilled Nursing Facilities Not to Refuse Treatment to People with Opioid Use Disorder (United States Attorney’s Office, District of Massachusetts)

    Health groups urge states to use Juul settlement funds for tobacco prevention and cessation

    The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights and the Truth Initiative sent a letter urging states to use the $438.5 million settlement from Juul for tobacco prevention and cessation programs, particularly aimed at young people. The groups call on states to build on the successes of the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement and avoid some of the mistakes that were made. Of the $27 billion states collected from tobacco settlements and taxes in FY 2022, only 2.7% was spent on programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. The groups urge states to translate their intention to use the money for smoking cessation and prevention into a firm commitment in the text of the final agreement.

    Source: Health Groups Urge States to Spend Juul Settlement Dollars on Tobacco Prevention (Pew)

    Washington will receive first payment of $55 million from opioid distributor settlement in December

    After rejecting a national settlement, Washington state went to trial against McKesson, Cardinal and AmerisourceBergen last year. The trial lasted six months and led to a resolution requiring the companies to pay a total of $518 million, $46 million more than the state would have received under the national settlement. All 125 eligible local governments joined the resolution. Local governments will receive $215 million, and the state will receive $215 million to fund opioid remediation, plus the additional $46 million the attorney general is directing to that purpose. The first payment will be $55 million, to be received on December 1. It will support improved and expanded treatment options, youth-focused prevention strategies, support for first responders and other evidence-based programs.

    Source: AG Ferguson: Half-billion dollars to fight opioid epidemic will start flowing Dec. 1 (Washington State Office of the Attorney General)

    Other news in addiction policy

    McKinsey spent decades working with tobacco and vaping companies

    In addition to its known work with opioid makers, McKinsey also worked with Big Tobacco for decades and advised Juul. McKinsey said its work with Juul focused on youth vaping prevention. For decades, McKinsey has helped manufacturers boost sales of cigarettes. In a slide deck prepared for Altria, McKinsey offered ideas for how the company could keep customers and lure new smokers. It presented a mock-up of what a Marlboro smartphone app would look like, complete with a way for loyal smokers to win points redeemable for small prizes. McKinsey also advised Altria on marketing e-cigarettes and stopped advising tobacco companies only last year. McKinsey also offered deep ties to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a regulatory agency vital to the survival of companies selling addictive products. McKinsey denies any wrongdoing in helping to market opioids, vaping and cigarettes or that its FDA contracts posed a conflict of interest.

    Source: How McKinsey Got Into the Business of Addiction (New York Times)

    Marijuana companies use same corporate social responsibility strategies as tobacco companies

    A study analyzing corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities conducted between 2012 and 2021 by the ten largest publicly traded cannabis companies in the U.S. and Canada found that nine of the companies engaged in CSR activities that encouraged increased consumption and targeted marginalized communities. Companies claimed these activities would mitigate harms of cannabis prohibition, promote diversity, expand access to medical cannabis and support charitable causes. They developed educational programs, sustainability initiatives and voluntary marketing codes and used strategies similar to those used by tobacco companies to recruit public interest organizations as allies. Cannabis companies should be included when addressing commercial determinants of health.

    Source: Content Analysis of the Corporate Social Responsibility Practices of 9 Major Cannabis Companies in Canada and the US (JAMA)