Benjamin Chambers On Supporting SAMHSA in Making Teens a Priority in Block Grants

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If you care about adolescent substance abuse treatment (and mental health treatment) this is really important.

As I posted last week, SAMHSA is proposing big changes to its mental health and alcohol and drug treatment block grants. They want your comments by this Friday, June 3, 2011.

Ho-hum, right? Far from it.

First, a little context:

  • The block grants provide a significant proportion of funding for adolescent substance abuse treatment in this country. All that “state” funding that many treatment agencies depend on is actually passed through state agencies from SAMHSA.
  • The guidelines for how the block grants work will set funding — and service — priorities for years to come at the national and state level.

The good news is, SAMHSA specifically included youth with substance abuse issues as a priority population when it drafted its proposed changes to the block grants. Here’s a direct quote from p. 20,000 of the notice the agency published in The Federal Register seeking comments:

The focus of SAMHSA’s Block Grant programs has not changed significantly over the past 20 years. While many of these populations originally targeted for the Block Grants are still a priority, additional populations have evolving needs that should be addressed. These include military families, youth who need substance use disorder services, individuals who experience trauma, increased numbers of individuals released from correctional facilities, and lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) individuals. The uniform plan required in the Block Grant application must address the statutory populations (as appropriate for each Block Grant) and should address these other populations [emphasis added].

The bad news? Rumor has it that SAMHSA is getting pushback from some states who don’t want to prioritize these special populations. We need to make sure that youth who need drug and alcohol services are not removed as a priority population — we need to speak up, loud and clear, and support SAMHSA’s original language.

Comments should be sent to Summer King, SAMHSA Reports Clearance Officer, at

The above story appeared in slightly different form on the website of Reclaiming Futures, a national initiative working to improve alcohol and drug treatment outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system. It has been reprinted with permission.



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