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Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Biden is directing $2.5 billion in funding to address the nation's worsening mental illness and addiction crisis, an official from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tells Axios.

Why it matters: Confronting the mounting mental health and substance abuse crisis will be an imperative for the Biden administration, even as its primary focus is on combating the broader COVID-19 pandemic.

  • The funding announced today is designed to increase access to services for individual Americans.
  • The funding surge comes as the president has yet to fill several key permanent positions in agencies that would lead the charge in combating the drug epidemic, including the Food and Drug Administration and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
  • His pick to lead HHS, Xavier Becerra, is expected to be confirmed by a close vote.

Between the lines: The funds will be broken down into two components by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

  • $1.65 billion will go toward the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant, which gives the receiving states and territories money to improve already-existing treatment infrastructure and create or better prevention and treatment programs.
  • $825 million will be allocated through a Community Mental Health Services Block Grant program, which will be used by the states to deal specifically with mental health treatment services.

By the numbers: A survey conducted last year and published in August 2020 by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that 41% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse related to the pandemic or its solutions, like social distancing.

  • Before the pandemic, over 118,000 people died by suicide and overdose in 2019. An HHS official says the administration is expecting that number to increase because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Preliminary data out of the CDC indicates that the number of drug overdoses through July 2020 increased by 24% from the year prior.

Flashback: On the campaign trail, then-candidate Biden often spoke about the need to address the mounting mental health and substance abuse crisis in America, an issue that hits close to home. His son, Hunter, has openly discussed his own struggles with addiction.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free and confidential support for anyone in distress, in addition to prevention and crisis resources. Also available for online chat.

Go deeper

White House nominates Rick Spinrad as NOAA leader

In this NOAA GOES-East satellite handout image, Hurricane Dorian, a Cat. 4 storm, moves slowly past Grand Bahama Island on September 2, 2019. (Photo by NOAA via Getty Images)

The White House on Thursday evening nominated Rick Spinrad, an oceanographer at Oregon State University, to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Why it matters: Filling the NOAA slot would complete the Biden administration's leadership on the climate and environment team. The agency, located within the Commerce Department, houses the National Weather Service and conducts much of the nation's climate science research.

2 hours ago - World

Israeli officials will object to restoration of Iran deal in D.C. visit

Photo: Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed the delegation traveling to Washington, D.C. next week for strategic talks on Iran to stress their objection to a U.S. return to the 2015 nuclear deal and to refuse to discuss its contents, Israeli officials say.

Why it matters: That position is similar to the one Israel took in the year before the 2015 nuclear deal was announced, which led to a rift between the Israeli government and the Obama administration. History could now repeat itself.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases aren't budging — even after vaccinations doubled— Health care workers feel stress, burnout more than a year into the pandemic — Handful of "breakthrough" COVID cases occurred in nursing homes, CDC says.
  2. Vaccines: Johnson & Johnson's vaccine production problems look even bigger — All U.S. adults now eligible for COVID-19 vaccine.
  3. Political: Watchdog says agency infighting increased health and safety risks at start of pandemic.
  4. World: EU regulator: Benefits of J&J vaccine outweigh risk of rare blood clots.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.