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Senator Collins Questions Experts on COVID-19’s Impact on Children’s Mental Health, Drug Overdoses

Pandemic restrictions have led to lost learning, social isolation, and widespread mental health problems among kids as well as a spike in drug overdoses among adults

Click HERE to watch Sen. Collins’ Q&A with Dr. Prinstein on children’s mental health. 


Click HERE to watch Sen. Collins’ Q&A with Ms. Goldsby on nonfatal overdoses. 


Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), a member of the Senate Health Committee, questioned mental health and substance use disorder experts at a hearing titled, “Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders: Responding to the Growing Crisis.”  Three medical groups representing pediatricians, child psychiatrists, and children's hospitals – the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Children’s Hospital Association – recently declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health.


Witnesses testifying today included Mitch Prinstein, PhD, ABPP, Chief Science Officer of the American Psychological Association, and Sara Goldsby, Director of the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services.


Senator Collins began by asking Dr. Prinstein about the impact that the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic has had on children’s mental health. She referenced two recent columns by the New York Times’ David Leonhardt, which highlighted how pandemic restrictions have led to lost learning, social isolation, and widespread mental health problems among children.


Senator Collins said: “Given that the pandemic has persisted for two years, which is a good portion of many children's lives, what should we be doing as policy makers to balance pandemic response policies with the serious concerns that many parents have expressed to me about the impact on their children's mental health, the social isolation, the remote learning, the restricted activities that they are seeing directly are harming their children's social and mental development?”


Dr. Prinstein explained that children are experiencing mental health challenges for a host of reasons, including the loss of loved ones, a disruption of their roles and routines, and the polarization among our country’s leaders. He added that the increased time spent on social media is also having dangerous effects on children’s personal and brain development.


Dr. Prinstein responded: “This is an opportunity for us to really build into the fabric of how we educate, how we talk within our communities, about the importance of mental health and resilience programs. Our entire mental health system right now is built for adults; it's built also for people who are already at the point in a crisis and need treatment. That is not what the science suggests. What we could be doing now, and what this presents us with an opportunity to do, is to pay attention to all of those folks who are at risk, or who have not even shown any psychological symptoms yet, and build the resilience necessary to ensure that they will never need outpatient or inpatient treatment.”


Senator Collins turned next to the topic of nonfatal drug overdoses and asked Ms. Goldsby how we can support individuals struggling with addiction.


Senator Collins said: “An estimated 636 people in Maine died from drug overdoses last year. That is a terrible and alarming record high. But what it obscures is the actual number of overdoses, which was in the neighborhood of 8,000 overdoses in the State of Maine, where thanks to the heroic efforts of first responders, medical professionals, and sometimes bystanders, they were saved. How can we ensure that nonfatal overdose patients are not just a statistic, but receive the care that they need to prevent a subsequent and potentially fatal overdose?”


Ms. Goldsby responded: “We talk about overdose reversal in South Carolina as an intervention. And it's in that moment when somebody has faced a life-threatening situation that they may be best reached by someone who offers them hope - hope to live, hope to a path to recovery. And I think those intervention services are key as we do more outreach, as we have our first responders saving lives, taking advantage of this critical crisis moment to engage people in services that will lead them on a path to long-term recovery. And so that can look a number of ways with a number of different programmings. But I think it’s taking advantage of that moment, that lifesaving moment, that we really engage in treatment services.”


Senator Collins has repeatedly pressed top public health officials on the importance of reopening schools and protecting children’s mental health. In September 2021, she questioned the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and U.S. Department of Education Secretary Dr. Miguel Cardona about fully reopening schools. Following this push, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued updated guidance in December 2021 on COVID-19 testing that allows more children to safely continue to learn in-person in the classroom.


As a member of the Senate Health and Appropriations Committees, Senator Collins is dedicated to providing Mainers and local communities with the treatment and resources they need to tackle the opioid epidemic. Last month, Senators Collins, Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), and Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced a bipartisan bill to expand access to mental health resources during public health emergencies. In November 2021, Senator Collins joined Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) in introducing bipartisan legislation to support hospitals in hiring and training doctors in addiction medicine, addiction psychiatry, and pain management.