Washington, DCToday, Representative John Curtis (R-UT) sent an overwhelmingly supported bipartisan letter to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) requesting greater flexibility in federal Substance Use Disorder (SUD) grants. The letter comes following calls from local addiction advocates urging more flexibility in these federal programs, especially during and following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am pleased to have such strong bipartisan support from members representing vastly different districts and from all four corners of the country,” said Curtis. “This just reinforces how high of a priority combating this epidemic remains in Congress and signals the importance of coming together to solve such a pervasive problem. I believe that our actions today will offer greater support and positive outcomes for the communities we are privileged to represent.”

Groups across the country are working tirelessly to eradicate the opioid epidemic and to get people in back on their feet. Many of their efforts are being fueled by grant funding from SAMHSA, made possible by the passage of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act in October 2018. 

This law provides critical funding for states and health care providers to offer long-term mental health care services, to purchase Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) that help treat addiction, and to significantly expand access to telehealth services to help treat addiction. These are all important steps to overcome addiction, but communities throughout the country need more help from the federal government navigating some of the rigid guidelines in these programs.

Full text of the letter available below, PDF available [HERE]:

The Honorable Elinore McCance-Katz
Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 20857

Dear Assistant Secretary McCance-Katz,

We would like to express our gratitude for your hard work, and hope for your future help, to continue combating the opioid crisis. No communities are immune to this growing public health crisis that continues to devastate families and communities across the United States. 

Our home states are taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to eradicate this epidemic. Our dedicated elected leaders, public health experts, health care providers, pharmacists, addiction counselors, educators, and community advocates are tireless in their efforts to provide the necessary resources to get people back on their feet. Many of their efforts are being fueled by grant funding from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), made possible by the passage of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act in October 2018. 

This comprehensive law provides funding for providers to more easily offer Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for substance use disorders, gives states more flexibility to cover long-term mental health care services, and significantly expands telemedicine services to treat addiction. These services are especially critical for rural communities. 

However, to effectively work together to develop long-term, sustainable solutions to reduce substance use disorders (SUD) in their communities, we encourage SAMHSA to continue to offer greater flexibilities in SUD grants. This is especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic, while the economic downturn, rising unemployment, and other challenges associated with a second public health crisis can contribute to higher incidence rates of individuals grappling with SUD and mental health disorders. We are hoping that, with your partnership, the federal government can offer additional assistance to these communities. Please kindly respond to the following questions at your earliest convenience:

  1. Are you continuing to work with local communities to provide as much flexibility as possible to help these leaders treat addiction? If so, how?
  2. If not, how can Congress enhance the work of these local leaders and health experts for them to develop more customized solutions that fit the needs of their communities?
  3. Is more Congressional action needed to achieve this objective? 
  4. What direct actions are HHS and SAMHSA taking to prevent a second opioid crisis that could follow the COVID-19 pandemic? Would additional flexibilities in federal grant programs help to prevent a second crisis?

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We know our constituents deeply appreciate your commitment to keeping Americans safe, healthy, and for your efforts to repair the emotional scars endured by communities as a result of the opioid crisis. We look forward to hearing from you soon.