Brindisi Leads Forum on Mental Health and Addiction Issues
WASHINGTON – Rep. Anthony Brindisi, D-N.Y., served as moderator last week at a Blue Dog Coalition forum exploring the issue of mental health and addiction in the U.S. and how to deal with it.
Brindisi, the coalition’s co-chair, has been an advocate for better access to mental health care in rural communities since his election in 2018.
Joining Brindisi in the video presentation was Keith Leahey, of the Mental Health Association; Dr. Shawn Ryan, of the American Society of Addiction Medicine; Cassandra Sheets, of the Center For Family Life and Recovery; and Dr. Liza Tupa, of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education Behavioral Health Program.
“Between 1999 and 2015, overdose deaths increased 325% in rural counties,” Brindisi said. “In 2015, they surpassed the death rate in urban areas. And according to the CDC over 70,000 people died from drug overdose in 2018 alone.”
“Those are staggering, heartbreaking numbers,” he continued. “And each person lost is so much more than a statistic. They are a family member, a colleague, a caregiver and a friend. And compounding the issue, many of these rural communities are the ones that have the least capacity to provide care.”
Brindisi recently sponsored The Fentanyl Sanctions Act to help prevent the import of the illicit drug from China.
During the forum, Dr. Ryan said drug abuse has been exacerbated across the country by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“We’ve seen a significant worsening in addiction and opioid overdose related to the crisis,” Ryan said. “These challenges in rural areas still exist. Several of the issues that were already challenges in rural areas have in fact been compounded by COVID.”
Brindisi closed the forum by saying the lack of access to mental health care for rural communities is a life or death issue.
“There is an urgent need to expand access to care in Upstate New York,” Brindisi said.
“Discussions like today’s help us raise awareness and will impel more policy makers to take substantive action to connect struggling rural Americans with support when they need it most.”