Congressional Briefing on Co-Occurring Substance Use and Mental Illness

On June 27, 23 scientific and professional organizations within the Friends of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) sponsored the eighth in a series of educational briefings on Capitol Hill.

On June 27, 23 scientific and professional organizations within the Friends of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) sponsored the eighth in a series of educational briefings on Capitol Hill. Organized by APA Science Government Relations staff, the briefing, titled "Double Jeopardy: When Addiction and Mental Illness Coexist", drew a standing-room-only crowd of nearly two hundred, including staff from a total of 60 different House and Senate offices. The event received tremendous support from the mental health community on Capitol Hill, evident by the endorsement and cosponsorship of three relevant congressional caucuses: the Addiction, Treatment and Recovery Caucus, the Mental Health Caucus, and the newly-formed Drug Policy Caucus. Congresswoman Grace Napolitano (D-CA), co-chair of the Mental Health Caucus, delighted us with an appearance and spoke to the audience with conviction about her strong commitment to improving the lives of those struggling with mental disorders.

The focus of the briefing was co-occurring mental disorders and substance use, and the fact that research increasingly supports the benefit of studying and treating co-occurring disorders together, with both medication and behavioral therapies. Studies on the root causes of these disorders, common risk factors, and potential interventions will enable us to better serve the large population for whom substance use is only part of the problem.

The notable panel of speakers began with a presentation by Nora Volkow, MD, Director of NIDA, who provided an overview of the Institute's work in this crucial area. Following was a presentation by Patrick Flynn, PhD, Professor of Psychology and Deputy Director of the Institute of Behavioral Research at Texas Christian University. He shared information regarding the two distinct treatment systems for co-occurring substance use and mental disorders. Our final, and very moving, speakers were Brittany and Basil Calomeris, who courageously shared the story of their family’s personal struggle with a co-occurring disorder and the arduous journey to treatment.

As always, we are grateful for the leadership of Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), co-chair of the Addiction, Treatment and Recovery Caucus, and to Rachael Bornstein, a dedicated member of his staff who helped with event logistics. The Friends of NIDA will continue with its briefing series by hosting another educational event on Capitol Hill in the fall.