Chairman Neal Opening Statement At Hearing on Substance Use, Suicide Risk, and the American Health System

Mar 2, 2022
Press Release

(As prepared for delivery)

Exactly one month ago, for the first time in more than a decade, this Committee held a hearing examining America’s mental health crisis.

Our discussion underscored how multidimensional the issue is, touching on factors including gaps in health care coverage, stigma, structural inequities, and workforce supply. 

The COVID-19 pandemic only complicated and exacerbated this longstanding crisis, causing increases in social isolation, anxiety, and workforce burnout, all of which compounded and heightened existing, collective mental health conditions. 

During today’s hearing, we will take a deeper look at interrelated mental health issues: substance use disorders, overdose deaths, and suicides. These are somber issues that affect each and every one of our communities. 

I was proud of the work this Committee did in the 115th Congress to pass the bipartisan SUPPORT Act, which made progress in combatting the opioid crisis and included policies like adding Opioid Treatment Programs as Medicare providers. 

While that legislation was a step in the right direction, data tragically show that more work must be done to help those who are suffering. 

In 2020, more than 40 million people over the age of 12 struggled with a substance use disorder in the United States.  

That same year, as the COVID-19 pandemic cast its devastating shadow over our nation, the United States set a record high of 100,000 overdose deaths. 

Sadly, suicide rates also remain at historic levels. America has the highest suicide rate of any wealthy nation, nearly double the rate of the United Kingdom. 

During last month’s hearing, we spoke about the stigma around mental health issues – that’s a conversation we’re going to continue today. The history of substance use disorders in the United States is one marked by stigma, criminalization, and a lack of recognition that these issues are health conditions requiring evidence-based treatment in the same way we treat diabetes or hypertension. 

Without necessary mental health treatment and supports, millions of Americans face severe illness, addiction, incarceration, and even death. And, due to longstanding social and economic inequities, historically marginalized groups in the United States face particularly bleak outcomes.  

We must finally take on these issues in a serious, holistic manner. It will take all of us working together to address this often-invisible suffering across our communities.

Fortunately, the White House also recognizes the need for urgent, collective action. I am grateful that last night during his State of the Union address, President Biden announced his strategy for addressing the nation’s mental health crisis. Together, we can build on the foundation we laid in the American Rescue Plan to ensure that everyone who needs mental health care is able to access it. 

Today’s hearing is an important step in tackling this problem. Testimony today will help to inform the legislative action that the Committee will take this year to address some of the longstanding problems in the way we deliver and access mental health services in this country.

With that, I will recognize Ranking Member Brady for the purpose of an opening statement.