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What is SAMHSA’s Role in Transforming the Mental Health System?

Following Mental Illness Awareness Week, with NAMI affiliates, members and partners across America taking actions to support the goals and recommendations of the President’s New Freedom Commission (NFC) report, it’s appropriate to take a look at what’s next.

The entity entrusted by the Administration with implementation of the NFC goals and recommendations is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services (SAMHSA). Charles G. Curie, M.A., A.C.S.W., is administrator of SAMHSA and a highly respected NAMI partner and friend.

Speaking at NAMI’s 2003 Annual Convention on the NFC report, Curie said, “It is an opportunity we don’t want to miss," referring to the sweeping transformation of a broken mental health services delivery system that the commission’s findings require. "It is clear, attempting to repair what is broken through patching and mending and stitching together is not on our agenda.”

Curie has a 20-year service record of action to bring change, hope and full community life to people with serious mental illnesses, having served most recently as Deputy Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services for Pennsylvania's State Department of Public Welfare. During his tenure he implemented a nationally recognized mental health and drug and alcohol Medicaid managed care program. He also  implemented a policy to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, the use of seclusion and restraint practices in that state hospital system.


The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services and Administration is the Federal agency charged with improving the quality and availability of prevention, treatment, and rehabilitative services in order to reduce illness, death, disability, and cost to society resulting from substance abuse and mental illnesses. SAMHSA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), was established by an act of Congress in 1992 under Public Law 102-321.

It is an agency, separate and distinct from the National Institutes of Health or any other agency within the HHS.  SAMHSA was created to focus attention, programs, and funding on improving the lives of people with or at risk for mental and substance abuse disorders.

SAMHSA self-describes its mission as one of building resilience and facilitating recovery for people with or at risk for substance abuse and mental illness. In collaboration with the States, national and local community-based and faith-based organizations, and public and private sector providers, SAMHSA states that it is working to ensure that people with or at risk for a mental or addictive disorders have the opportunity for a fulfilling life that includes a job, a home, and meaningful relationships with family and friends.

A Funding Source for Recovery Efforts

SAMHSA supports programs, policy, and knowledge development about substance abuse prevention, addiction treatment, and mental health services through three major funding streams: (1) Block and Formula Grants; (2) Targeted Capacity Expansion Grants; and (3) Programs of Regional and National Significance.


Over the years, SAMHSA programs have translated research to practice; bringing new science-based knowledge to community-based services for people with or at risk for mental and substance abuse disorders. The results are being measured in significant improvements in how the Nation responds to substance abuse and mental illnesses.


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