Assistant Secretary of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration: Who Is Elinore McCance-Katz?

Friday, May 19, 2017
Elinore McCance-Katz

Dr. Elinore “Ellie” F. McCance-Katz, who has years of experience treating addiction issues, was nominated April 21, 2017, to lead the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). With an annual budget of more than $4 billion, SAMHSA makes grants to various agencies to prevent and treat addictive and mental disorders and furthers its work through public campaigns, system reform, policy and program analysis.


McCance-Katz earned a B.A. in biology from Eastern Connecticut State University in 1978. She then went to Yale to study infectious disease epidemiology and earned an M.Phil and in 1984 a Ph.D. McCance-Katz attended medical school at the University of Connecticut, earning her M.D. in 1987. She did her residency in psychiatry at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut.


McCance-Katz returned to Yale as an assistant professor and subsequently associate professor of psychiatry from 1991 to 1997. She then taught at the University of Texas and the Albert Einstein School of Medicine before going to Virginia Commonwealth University in 2002 as the chair of the division of addiction psychiatry. McCance-Katz left for the University of California, San Francisco in 2007, teaching at the medical school, as well as being named medical director for the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs.


In 2013, McCance-Katz joined HHS for the first time as the chief medical officer for the SAMHSA. She later wrote an article for Psychiatric Times criticizing the agency, saying it focused on politically popular programs that didn’t necessarily do an effective job of treating patients. She advocated increased use of psychiatric drugs. McCance-Katz left the agency in December 2015 to become chief medical officer at the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals. When she took over, she told the Providence Journal, “Rhode Island is known because it has one of the worst problems with opioid overdose. We're going to move the needle on that.” Perhaps her exact words were not so well chosen, but her sincere intentions were clear.


She was also a professor at the Brown University medical school. The move coincided with her husband, Michael Katz, being named associate vice president at the University of Rhode Island.


The appointment of McCance-Katz by President Donald Trump drew criticism from one member of Trump’s party. “While she was serving at SAMHSA, there were questionable hiring practices, no accountability for federal grants, an anti-medical approach to serious mental illness and substance abuse treatment and most importantly, the continued upward rise of suicide and substance abuse deaths,” Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania said in a statement. Murphy was a key Republican sponsor of mental health legislation passed in 2016 that elevated the SAMHSA leader’s position from administrator to assistant secretary. 


McCance-Katz praised Trump’s election in a November article for National Review, calling it “an exciting turn of events for people afflicted with mental illness.”


McCance-Katz and her husband hold a patent for a method to prevent urine specimen and other specimen substitution in substance use screening.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

New Medical Chief at BHDDH an Expert on Addiction (by G. Wayne Miller, Providence Journal)

Rep. Murphy Blasts Trump’s Pick For Mental Health Post (by Tracie Mauriello, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Official Announcement


Melissa 4 years ago
I can only speak about Rockingham County, North Carolina.The state funded Mental health center's are terrible!Watching loved one beg to talk to psychiatrist,is hard.3-4 month wait.And wander why people kill THEMSELVES.BECAUSE STATE, GOVERNMENT DOESN'T CARE.
Louise 4 years ago
Wrong choice for the people. What has improved for services in the community? These ne TA centers are useless and seem to be repeating work of other programs; a waste of money.
Michele DeMusis,LCSW 7 years ago
Don't be fooled by her education. What is important is where her humanity stands. Locking up people in hospital wards with forced medication is draconian. Will she advocate chaining people to beds and walls like the old State hospitals did? Has she read history books and seen photos of patients drooling and defecating. Don't forget the high rate of pregnancy in psychiatric institutions. Who will take care of babies born in psychiatric hospitals? How barbaric. Yale should be ashamed of this alumna. Yale is known for breeding many Republican leaders, remember George W. Bush. How did America make out with him?
Janet 7 years ago
Given her institutional knowledge of the inner workings and failures of SAMHSA after having spent 2 years as SAMHSA's chief medical officer, Dr. McCance-Katz is uniquely positioned to be able to bring about swift and effective reforms to ensure that funding will finally be directed toward programs and services for the most seriously mentally ill people to avoid homelessness, incarceration and early death.

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