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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

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

British national named in Colleyville synagogue standoff

A law enforcement vehicle sits near the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on Jan. 16. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

British national Malik Faisal Akram took four people hostage at a Texas synagogue outside Fort Worth on Saturday, the FBI said in a statement.

State of play: Authorities had initially declined to release the name of the 44-year-old suspect or identify the hostages, all adults, though police chief Michael Miller confirmed that one of those held was Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who leads the congregation.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Concerns grow over CDC's isolation guidelines — Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron — WHO recommends 2 new treatments — What "mild" really means when it comes to Omicron — Deaths are climbing as cases skyrocket.
  2. Vaccines: America's vaccination drive runs out of gas— Puerto Rico expands booster shot requirements— Supreme Court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers.
  3. Politics: Vivek Murthy calls SCOTUS vaccine mandate block "a setback for public health" — Focus group says Biden weak on COVID response, strong on democracy
  4. Economy: America's labor shortage is bigger than the pandemic— — CDC COVID guidance for cruise ships to be optional starting Saturday — The cost of testing.
  5. States: West Virginia governor feeling "extremely unwell" after positive test — Youngkin ends mandates for masks in schools and COVID vaccinations for state workers — America struggles to keep schools open
  6. World: Beijing reports first local Omicron case weeks before Winter Olympics — Teachers in France stage mass walkout over COVID protocols.
  7. Variant tracker
9 hours ago - Sports

Novak Djokovic loses Australian visa appeal

Novak Djokovic of Serbia plays a forehand during a practice session ahead of the 2022 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 14, 2022. Photo: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

Tennis star Novak Djokovic left Australia on Sunday evening, facing a three-year visa ban after an appeals court in the country revoked his visa.

Driving the news: Djokovic will not be able to defend his Australian Open title when the tournament starts in Melbourne. The World No. 1 is looking to break a three-way tie with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for most Grand Slam men's singles titles.