Assembly lawmakers hold hearing on co-occurring disorders

NY Capitol News

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for services for those dealing with both substance use and mental health disorders. At a legislative hearing on the issue Monday, advocates said that services for both types of disorders should be integrated. 

The National Institute of Mental Health says almost half of people who have a substance use disorder will experience a mental health disorder at the same time. But treatment for both disorders is often dealt with separately. 

While a bill to create an Office of Addiction and Mental Health Services passed through the Senate this session, it didn’t make it for a vote in the Assembly.

“The creation of the Office of Mental Health Addiction and Wellness is critical to provide the framework for any comprehensive and co-occurring capable service delivery model,” said Harris Project Founder Stephanie Marquesano.

Currently, there’s an Office of Addiction Services and Supports and an Office of Mental Health that operate as separate agencies. Advocates say the current system is failing those with co-occurring diagnoses. 

“We’re focused on two sets of regulations, separate paperwork, and billing requirements, and we struggle to recruit staff who believe that they have the skillset necessary to treat both conditions,” said Dr. William Mullane with Westchester Jewish Community Services.

Assemblymember Aileen Gunther says there are especially challenges for those Upstate or in more rural areas. “To get an inpatient stay, to detox, very very difficult. And then the aftercare if you don’t have transportation, if you don’t have money, you’re not going to stick to the program,” she said.

The Office of Mental Health says some strides have been made in expanding telehealth capacity to help with this.

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