Bill addressing mental illness, opioid crisis heads to Obama to become law

Leaders from all over Horry County met Wednesday night in Myrtle Beach. On the agenda--how to combat the growing heroin and prescription drug problem.
Leaders from all over Horry County met Wednesday night in Myrtle Beach. On the agenda--how to combat the growing heroin and prescription drug problem.

HARTFORD, Conn. – A major bill tackling mental help reform and the opioid crisis is on its way to President Obama for his signature.

The senate passed the bipartisan bill co-authored by Senator Chris Murphy. This comes almost at the four-year anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. If you think back to when that happened, the hope for preventing more attacks was securing schools, gun control, and improving mental health care. This bill is the answer to that last part.

There’s been a lot of talk about health care, Obamacare, the affordable care act, but very little talk about mental health. This bill is called the 21st Century Cures Act. It aims to break down the walls between physical and mental health care. Nobody has any problem going to a doctor when you’ve got cancer, but somehow there’s a stigma attached to going to see a doctor when you’re dealing with a mental illness.

That became an important local issue here in Connecticut 4 years ago when a mentally ill man killed his mother, then 6 educators and 20 little kids. This bill had already passed the house, the Senate approved it 94-5, and when they did, Mark Barden was there. His son was killed at Sandy Hook.

“The mental health portion of this bill is a substantial step in the right direction to reforming mental health in this country. And I’m doing this to honor my little Daniel, and to save other families from this pain,” said Mark Barden, Mental Health Advocate.

They estimate one in five Americans struggles with some sort of mental illness. Now, another major part of this bill is that it sends a billion dollars’ worth of aid across the country to fight the opioid epidemic. That goes right to drug monitoring programs, prevention activities, training health care providers and expanding treatment programs. That was crucial to getting this bill passed, as so many states, including ours, have had to deal with a huge spike in overdoses in the past couple years.

There’s also money in there for something called a moonshot. That’s the cancer moonshot. Like Kennedy calling for a man on the moon years before it was possible. This bill has almost $5 billion going to the National Institutes of Health for, among other things, the challenge of someday curing cancer.