Rates of mental illness and substance abuse disorder were relatively steady in 2015, but fewer than 40% of those affected are receiving treatment. Meanwhile, mental health reform legislation remains stalled in Congress.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration released its latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health report (PDF) on Thursday showing some decreases in underage drinking and smoking and mostly stable levels of misuse of other substances. It also found that rates of mental illness are generally steady.
SAMHSA Principal Deputy Administrator Kana Enomoto highlighted the lack of treatment as a concern and said at a news conference Thursday the country has the tools to improve if it will put money and effort toward a goal.
Despite a significant increase in major depressive episodes among youth, about 90% did not get specialty treatment, she said.
“We as a nation need to do better,” she said.
The agency for the first time released a complementary report on the use of prescription medications. Lawmakers and public policy experts have been scrambling to find responses to high rates of abuse of opioid medications and increasing numbers of related deaths.
At the news conference, White House Director of National Drug Control Policy Michael Botticelli urged Congress to pass the president's fiscal 2017 request for $1.1 billion for treating the opioid epidemic.
“Every day that passes without congressional action to provide this desperately needed funding is a missed opportunity to save lives,” he said.
More than 43 million adults had a mental illness in 2015 and nearly 10 million had a serious mental illness. About 43% of those with a mental illness received treatment services.
The second report found that nearly 19 million people ages 12 and older, or about 7% of the population, misused prescription drugs in 2015. Most of them misused pain relievers. More than half said they got their last pain reliever from a friend or relative and one-third got it from a doctor.
Mental health reform has been a relatively frequent topic for Congress, although no legislation has been sent to the president. The presidential candidates have brought it up during the election season.
Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton recently laid out a plan for how she would improve behavioral health by focusing on early diagnosis and prevention and integrating mental and physical healthcare while enforcing parity.
The House overwhelmingly passed the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, but Senate Democrats have struggled with their own bill, which Republicans refuse to fund.
Theresa Nguyen, senior director of policy and programs at Mental Health America, said the report provides important data that can't be found elsewhere and is used to help push policy priorities.
Medicaid expansion at every state would be a good first step to making sure everyone could have insurance coverage for mental health and substance abuse services. Increased funding is needed for more research and improving access to treatment, she said.
“Every little bit helps, but I think we still have a long way to go to ensure even adequate access to treatment at this point,” she said.
John Snook, executive director at the Treatment Advocacy Center, said the report's heavy focus on substance abuse issues instead of mental illness showed the need for more attention toward mental health.
The bills currently before Congress would help this disparity by creating an assistant secretary for mental health and substance abuse disorders at HHS who could coordinate reporting and research, he said.
“This sort of report is evidence that we're not taking this (mental illness) as seriously as substance abuse,” he said.
The supplemental report found that the most commonly used prescription pain relievers were Hydrocodone products like Vicodin and Lortab. Next were Oxycodone products.
The report also found, however, that 84% of those who used prescription drugs in 2015 did not misuse them.
Last year, 3.7 million people received substance abuse treatment and 22.4% received treatment for misuse of pain relievers.