Behavioral health and the campaign trail 2016

Presidential candidate Hilary Rodham Clinton believes drug addiction should be considered a chronic disease and insurance companies should provide benefits accordingly. At the third Republican presidential debate, Donald Trump referred to gun-free zones – areas where it is illegal to possess a firearm – as target practice for sickos and the mentally ill. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says addiction is a treatable problem, not a moral failure. Vermont senator Bernie Sanders believes some gun control is necessary but what’s needed is a revolution in mental health.

Heroin and mass shootings have made behavioral health a hot topic in the 2016 presidential race.

Mass shootings, substance abuse, mental health and them Dems tracks gun violence in the U.S. According to its data, there have been 21 mass shootings since 2009 – the year President Obama took office. 178 deaths; 192 wounded. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note more than 8,200 people died from heroin-related overdoses in 2013. According to a National Alliance on Mental Illness report, from 2009 to 2011, cuts to non-Medicaid state mental health spending exceeded more than $1.8 billion.

What’s a Democrat to do? If you’re Clinton, you rail against your competition. Sanders emerged with the lead in the latest Iowa caucus poll. Clinton went on the offensive, attacking Sanders’ record on gun control. In 2005, Sanders voted for a bill that shields gun manufacturers and dealers from lawsuits. When he was in the House of Representatives, Sanders voted for a ban on assault weapons but against the Brady bill. Clinton’s tactics worked: she picked up an endorsement from the nonprofit Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

On his presidential campaign website, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley notes more than 80 percent of people with mental illness who are incarcerated receive no mental health care. O’Malley promises, if elected, he will invest in services to provide mental health and substance abuse treatment to prisoners. O’Malley will use federal funds to train first responders on how to deal with people in crisis and how to de-escalate situations involving mentally ill individuals.

GOP voices

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson received criticism for his remarks following the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon last October. In an interview with CBS News, Carson said he would rather see a body covered with bullet holes than gun control. But Carson softened his position with respect to guns and the mentally ill. In the interview, he advocated studying each mass shooter on a case by case basis to determine what can be learned about these individuals. He also advocated finding a mechanism to keep weapons out of the hands of people deemed dangerous by mental health professionals – provided it does not compromise the Second Amendment.

Addressing the country’s heroin epidemic, Jeb Bush posted “Addressing the Heartbreak of Addiction” on In his post, Bush writes of his own daughter’s battle with addiction. He points to his success as Governor of Florida where he reduced heroin use 50 percent among young people. If elected president, he will implement a multifaceted program to reduce drug abuse. The program includes:

  • Preventing drug abuse and addiction before it begins
  • Strengthening the criminal justice system
  • Securing the border to prevent the flow of drugs from Mexico
  • Improving treatment and recovery programs

Whatever one’s stance on well-known political issues, it can be agreed that mental health and substance abuse are highly important, especially when these can get someone in trouble with the law. Sovereign Health Group’s Court Services division serves works to secure treatment, not jail, for our patients. We do not come to court as your lawyer, but, rather, as your advocate and liaison. If you have criminal charges pending from mental health or substance abuse issues, call our 24/7 helpline for assistance.

Written by Darren Fraser, Sovereign Health Group writer

For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

January 13, 2016

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