Reports suggest that federal health officials in the United States have suspended the National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP) that has been helping people with mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders since its inception in 1997.
The NREPP provides a database of hundreds of evidence-based behavioral health programs, declared scientifically sound by an independent contractor, which can be accessed by people, healthcare providers and community groups and organizations in order to identify the relevant program and implement accordingly.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which oversees the NREPP, has confirmed on its website that the contract has been discontinued but has assured that it would continue its effort by reconfiguring its approach.
SAMHSA falls under the ambit of the Health and Human Services (HHS) department.
“Although the current NREPP contract has been discontinued, SAMHSA 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,” reads the SAMHSA website notice.
Just last week, Democratic House of Representatives member Grace Meng sent a letter to McCance-Katz appreciating NREPP for being a “critical tool in fighting addiction.”
“I was shocked to learn that the NREPP contract has been terminated as an opioid epidemic continues to shake our nation,” Meng reacted. “I’m determined to find out why SAMHSA has made such a mind-boggling decision,” she said in a statement.
Republican Ohio Senator Rob Portman said about the suspension that he was “concerned and looking into it.”
“I’ve long believed we must use federal funds for evidence-based programs that work and we must continue to make this a priority,” the senator said.
SAMHSA spokesman Brian Dominguez told the Washington Post on Wednesday that the agency was “working closely” with other parts of the agency to “institute an even more scientifically rigorous approach to better inform the identification and implementation of evidence-based programs and practices.”
Federal officials have refrained from disclosing why the NREPP database was frozen.
Martha Yeide of the Development Services Group, Inc., which did contractual work for the agency, told “Education Week” that her company received a letter dated Dec. 28 instructing the group to discontinue work by Jan. 26, six months before the scheduled expiry of the contract “for the convenience of the government, not for cost.”
While SAMHSA claims it will continue to administer the evidence-based program, Washington Post reports that “agency officials froze the existing website in September, and no new postings have been added, according to mental health advocacy groups. As a result, about 90 new programs that have been reviewed and rated for their scientific merits since September are not available to the public, they said.”
According to the Washington Post, president of the Arizona-based Paxis Institute Dennis Embry said, “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.”
Washington Post also reports that when SAMHSA spokesman Christopher Garrett was asked about the freezing of the NREPP database he said that the agency’s responsibility was to “lead the efforts to rapidly institute evidence-based practices in all behavioral health treatment programs,” adding that the “federal government should not be in the business of having a single contractor determine winners and losers in behavioral health care.”
Catherine Tucker, president of the Association for Child and Adolescent Counseling, told the Washington Post that “NREPP is one of the most important tools we have. Nobody has a financial stake,” she said. “It’s an impartial, non-partisan, trustworthy source that represents thousands and thousands of hours of work,” she added.
Dewey Cornell, Professor of Education at the Curry School of Education University of Virginia and Director of Virginia Youth Violence Project said it had taken years to build the NREPP database.
“It keeps people up in the field with usable practices,” he said. “Before that, people would go to the journals to look for evidence-based research, but most counselors don’t have the time for that.”