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Health Agencies Update
June 23/30, 2020

Pandemic Highlights Behavioral Health Disparities

JAMA. 2020;323(24):2452. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.10318

Lower access to behavioral health care is among the racial and ethnic disparities highlighted by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, according to a recent report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Although people of color have similar rates of behavioral health disorders as the general population, they have substantially lower access to mental health and substance use treatment services, according to SAMHSA. In addition, black and Latino people with mental health and substance use disorders are more likely to be incarcerated and homeless than the general population, increasing their risk for COVID-19.

In 2018, 69.4% of black and 67.1% of Hispanic adults with any mental illness reported receiving no treatment the previous year compared with 56.7% of the overall US population, according to the report. The COVID-19 pandemic will further increase those gaps, SAMHSA said.

The SAMHSA has proposed or initiated steps to increase access to care for behavioral health as well as COVID-19 for people of color. These steps include enabling opioid treatment programs to dispense take-home methadone during the pandemic, remote initiation of buprenorphine, and the use of virtual peer navigators and coaches.

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