ST. LOUIS – The City of St. Louis announced a new bureau in the St. Louis Department of Health to tackle the crisis of drug abuse and mental health.

The new Behavioral Health Bureau is also getting help from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its formation. The city will spend $600,000 on the new bureau, which will have about 14 employees.

The health department is also getting $400,000 from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. The Director of the St. Louis Department of Health, Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, said drug overdoses by fentanyl and mental health issues are among the city’s most critical problems. Both matters have worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic.

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones was among the city officials at a news conference Wednesday to talk about the new effort they say will make the city safer.

“When I became mayor, and as I ran, I always talked about having a holistic approach to public health and a holistic approach to crime, and this is part of that,” Jones said. “Mental health is a part of public health, and having a bureau set up by the department of health is a key step forward to addressing crime in our city.”

Davis said she’s taking a slow approach to the bureau that will launch next spring.

“I’m specifically being vague though because again, we’re building this bureau from nothing,” she said. “It didn’t exist before July 1. There was nothing. I was horrified to start this job and be aware, there is not one person in the health department that does the job of behavioral health. So, it would be easy for me to get a good plug for press today and say we’re going to do this, this, and this. But I’ve actually gotten seven CDC national experts to spend a year making sure that we look into all the leaders in the community and all the people in the community and then find where the needs are and implement a strategy.”

St. Louis Public Safety Director Dan Isom was also at Wednesday’s news conference with praise for the new effort.

“Mental health is a needed service in our community that will help us to reduce violent crime in our city,” he said. “We look forward to partnering with the new Behavioral Health Bureau as we continue to make St. Louis a safer city.”