The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, quietly deleted hundreds of blog entries from its blog that pre-dated the current administration. The oldest entries date back only to September 2017, with hundreds of missing entries on a blog that began its life nine years ago on October 4, 2010.
Why did SAMHSA delete its history of blog entries from before the current president’s administration?
Historically, the SAMHSA blog published anywhere from 4 to 12 articles per month, highlighting a wide variety of public mental health and substance abuse concerns. It was written in everyday language and put a very human face on these kinds of issues. These articles ranged from educational information about mental health and substance abuse issues, to personal stories of hope from individuals impacted by a mental health or substance abuse issue.
Censoring the Past History of SAMHSA
Under the current SAMHSA administration, this once-vibrant form of public communication has dwindled down to a handful of articles per month. And for unclear reasons, SAMHSA made the unprecedented decision to remove all of its articles in this section of the website that were published before September 2017. Here’s a tiny example of the articles that were removed without notice this federal government resource:
- Rural veterans may not be receiving the mental health treatment they need
- A personal perspective about new data on behavioral health patterns in the LGB community
- New and Expanded Initiatives to Promote America’s Mental Health
- A Healthier Start: Addressing Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and Opioid Misuse during Pregnancy
- Strengthening Families through Hope and Help at the 2016 Voice Awards
- Performance Partnership Pilots: An Opportunity to Improve Outcomes for Disconnected Youth
- For Young Adults, the Affordable Care Act Means Just That – Affordable Care
- Preventing Youth Substance Use and Promoting Wellness in Native Communities
I decided to see if this was just a SAMHSA problem, or whether it was endemic of a more general effort by the federal government to urge its agencies to rid itself of mental health information.
So I checked various National Institute of Health websites (such as NIH.gov and NIMH.NIH.gov) to see if this was part of a wider-spread removal of mental health and substance abuse educational information. I couldn’t find any other government website that focuses on mental health information that engaged in a similar wholesale removal of federal mental health resources from its site.
What Does SAMHSA Say?
I reached out to SAMHSA for clarification on these hundreds of blog entries gone missing.
Christopher Garrett, a spokesperson for SAMHSA, responded by noting that “SAMHSA has been working in recent years to streamline the website.” When I asked more about what exactly that meant — since the website actually has more resources and pages than it did in 2016 — he didn’t reply to that or any of the original questions I asked him. Instead, he ignored my questions and replied back with this boilerplate statement:
SAMHSA’s work in recent years actually has emphasized science-based treatments and community supports to help people with mental illness, especially those with serious mental illness. In addition to the Evidence-Based Practices Resource Center (https://www.samhsa.gov/ebp-resource-center) that I referenced in my previous email to you, I also would encourage you to explore our Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network (https://attcnetwork.org/centers/global-attc/products-resources-catalog).
It’s true that SAMHSA has been called out in the past for working with some efforts that were not “evidence based.”
But its new efforts are neither scientific nor especially consumer friendly. For instance, the “Evidenced-Based Practices Resource Center” (boy, that’s a mouthful!) doesn’t actually list what they consider to be “evidence.”1
And what it does list is a bunch of technical manuals and research papers valuable to professionals — but virtually useless to most consumers of mental health and substance abuse information. Fascinating resources with titles like these:
- ACOG Committee Opinion
- Addiction Science and Clinical Practice: Volume 6, Number 1
- Adult Drug Court Best Practice Standards – Vol 2
- AHRQ Clinician Research Summary: Pharmacotherapy for Adults with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in Outpatient Settings
- ASAM Criteria
- Guidance on Strategies to Promote Best Practice in Antipsychotic Prescribing for Children and Adolescents
- Interventions for Disruptive-Behavior Disorders Evidence-Based-Practices-(EBP)-KIT
Most of the resources are undated in this database, making it less-than-helpful in understanding if the resource is current or old and outdated. For instance, I found resources dated from 2011 and earlier in this list — but only by laboriously clicking through, downloading the paper or brochure, and checking its publication date.
At least some of the resources aren’t actually available without payment. The database makes no notation about whether the resource is free or requires a fee to access.
There’s no editor of this database listed, so you have no idea who’s actually in charge of this list that we’re supposed to trust and know is vetted in some subjective manner. There is little transparency about the criteria used to get a resource on the list. Not surprisingly, most of the “resources” listed come from SAMHSA itself.
180 Degree Reversal in Direction
I’m all for SAMHSA making more resources available to mental health and allied professionals. However, I see no reason for SAMHSA to leave consumers in the dust in their efforts to “streamline” their website. We’ve lost all the history behind the amazing VOICE awards and prior nominations, for instance, as well as many valuable personal stories and experiences shared on its blog. With hundreds of entries simply “disappeared” off the website, it’s hard to appreciate the breadth and depth of knowledge and experience lost.
In fact, looking at the homepage of SAMHSA.gov, it appears they’ve pretty much given up on helping American citizens grappling with mental health or substance abuse issue. And that’s a shame, because we still have so much further to go in reducing the prejudice, misinformation, and discrimination that exists surrounding mental illness. A large government resource like SAMHSA should cater to all citizens in this mission, but instead has apparently given up on helping ordinary people coping with mental health concerns.
- After all, a peer-reviewed, published single case report is a scientifically-valid (but not particularly helpful) piece of “evidence” or research data. [↩]