Missouri’s junior senator is urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to address the mental health needs of Americans impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley (R) speaks to Missourinet during an interview on March 25, 2020 (file photo courtesy of Senator Hawley’s office)

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley (R) has written a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, calling on the agency to deploy more of the $425 million that Congress appropriated to the agency to boost mental health and substance abuse treatment services during the pandemic.

“I’d like to see more money come to our state and local health care providers,” Hawley tells Missourinet. “I’d like to see HHS set up a system to get that money out the door.”

Senator Hawley, who serves on the U.S. Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, says the agency has distributed $14 million in CARES Act funding to Missouri certified community behavioral health clinics. He also says the agency has established an emergency grant program, targeted at suicide prevention.

But Hawley says more should be done to increase access to services. He says that for older Americans, loneliness due to social isolation and distancing has skyrocketed.

Senator Hawley also says increases in social isolation and anxiety because of the COVID pandemic may be contributing to surges in drug addiction. He says he’s seeing reports from across Missouri about significant increases in Narcan doses deployed by EMS personnel to combat drug overdoses.

“This time has been extraordinarily hard on people from all walks of life, but especially those who struggle with substance abuse, some who’ve begun to struggle during this time with substance abuse,” says Hawley.

He also says treatment facilities for drug addiction are under severe strain because of pandemic-related interruptions.

A University of Missouri professor who serves as the director of the Missouri Center for Addiction Research and Engagement says increased isolation and more daily life stressors are some of the challenges people are facing during the pandemic.

Mizzou professor Denis McCarthy says some residents have also experienced job losses and business closures, during the pandemic. Professor McCarthy says each type of stress is associated with an increased risk of alcohol and drug use.

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