Feds suspend evidence-based database for substance abuse, mental health programs

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Federal officials did not give a reason for the registry suspension, nor did they say when the new program will launch. (Sarah Stierch/CC BY 4.0)

The White House administration has suspended a national registry that assesses hundreds of mental health and substance abuse programs and that healthcare professionals rely on to determine which ones are scientifically sound and effective.

Officials told The Washington Post that the contract has been terminated for running the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices, a program under the Health and Human Services Department’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

A message on the database website said that although the current contract has been discontinued, the agency is “very focused on the development and implementation of evidence-based programs in communities across the nation. SAMHSA’s Policy Lab will lead the effort to reconfigure its approach to identifying and disseminating evidence-based practice and programs.”

But officials did not give the Post a reason for the registry suspension, nor did they say when the new program will launch and whether existing programs already evaluated will be included in the new approach.

Mental health advocates told the newspaper that the website was frozen in September and 90 new programs reviewed since then are not available to the public. They said they rely on the registry to find appropriate and effective therapies.

“I know there are quite a number of new studies that could be breakthrough strategies for prevention of psychiatric disorders, opiate addictions, autism spectrum disorders—any number of things,” Dennis Embry, president of Paxis Institute, a for-profit Arizona organization that helps communities identify evidence-based practices for the prevention of psychiatric disorders, told the Post.

RELATED: HHS and CDC push back on reports that Trump administration has banned words like 'science-based'

News about the decision to end the contract for the existing website comes on the heels of media reports that the Trump administration has submitted a list of words to government agencies that they don’t want to be used in budget documents. Those banned terms include words like “evidence-based” and science-based.”

Federal officials have disputed those reports, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Senate Democrats in a Jan. 5 letter (PDF) that it has not banned or forbidden employees from using certain terms. It does rely on a budget guide, however, which recommends “overused” words to avoid, like “vulnerability, diversity and entitlement.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have expressed concern about the decision to suspend the registry. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said he is looking into the suspension and Rep. Grace Meng, D-New York, has called the program a “critical public health tool.” She told the newspaper that all discussions about the agency budget indicated the program would be funded through September 2018.