Sarbanes Urges Congressional Action to Address Shortages in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Workforce

At a House Subcommittee on Health hearing today, Congressman John Sarbanes (D-Md.) raised concerns about shortages in the substance use disorder workforce and offered several solutions to fill employment gaps and increase opioid addiction treatment services across the country.

“The workforce issue is something I’ve brought some special attention to in my time here in Congress,” said Congressman Sarbanes. “I joined my colleagues Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) in introducing the Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Act. That is a bipartisan bill that would help increase the number of health care professionals working in addiction treatment and substance use disorder programs around the country – by offering student loan forgiveness when they provide direct patient care at opioid treatment programs.”

Sarbanes continued: “I’m also cosponsoring one of the bills that we’re looking at today, H.R. 3413 the Opioid Workforce Act. We know many communities across the country are facing shortages of these kinds of professionals and lack access to the services they need as a result. This is especially true, as you know, when it comes to mental health and substance use disorder providers. In addition to affordability, the provider capacity is clearly a barrier to treatment. H.R. 3414 would help expand treatment by growing the provider workforce. It would make 1,000 new graduate medical education slots available under Medicare. Those slots would be targeted towards training providers in addiction medicine, addiction psychiatry, pain medicine or prerequisites of those programs.”

During the hearing, Congressman Sarbanes posed a question to Admiral Brett P. Giroir, M.D., Assistant Secretary for Health and Senior Advisor to the Secretary on Opioid Policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Sarbanes asked, “How do we make sure that we fill these gaps in terms of the workforce and to the extent you would prioritize or triage that effort?”

Giroir answered: “This is a critically important long-term issue…. There are shortages of psychiatrists for mental illness and shortages of addiction psychiatrists. There are also shortages across the board. Being a physician, I can say don’t just focus on physician training. It’s social workers, community workers, peer counselors and peer coaches – all the different aspects that you need…. If we get the workforce right, and we get the model right, and we can get the incentive payments right, this will work out in the long-term.”