New York lawmakers are pushing for the merger of the Office of Addiction Services and Supports and the Office of Mental Health with the goal of better serving people who are facing both addiction and mental health crises. 

The state Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that would merge both offices in state government, creating the new Office of Addiction and Mental Health Services. 

“Not a week goes by that I don’t get a call from a family who has lost a loved one, who said their family member was in and out of treatment six, seven, eight, nine times, but because they never treated their underlying mental health disorder, they kept self-medicating until fentanyl caught up to them,” said Sen. Peter Harckham. “This bill will break down the barriers in treatment programs, and follow the federal government’s recommendation for integrated care.”

Lawmakers pointed to what they said was a need for combined care: 70% of people who have a substance abuse disorder also have an underlying mental health disorder. That overlap rises to 90% when a person is in crisis. Half of people who are living with a mental illness also have an underlying substance abuse disorder. 

“Two soloed systems—OASAS and OMH—with two separate funding streams, two separate bureaucracies for families to navigate, two separate sets of books and rules, and two separate doors, literally, to get treatment: it just doesn’t work,” said Harckham. “It’s time to create a system with no wrong door.”

Harkcham also wants to create a seven-person standing advisory committee on addiction and mental health programs with the goal of crafting state policy for prevention, care and treatment for people who are facing mental illness and addiction and that the care is implemented comprehensively. 

New York has seen a sharp and record rise in overdose deaths over the last two years, coinciding with the COVID pandemic.