On Thursday, July 14, 2022, Trust for America’s Health and Well Being Trust hosted, “Pain in the Nation: The Epidemics of Alcohol, Drug, and Suicide Deaths,” a national webinar discussing their recently released report titled the same thing. In 2020, deaths associated with alcohol, drugs, and suicide took the lives of 186,763 Americans, a 20 percent increase from the previous years combined death rate and the highest number of substance misuse deaths ever recorded for a single year. The report also revealed that mental health, substance use, and suicide crises disproportionately effects communities of color, youth, & young adults at a higher rate.

While no single program or policy will be a cure-all to address these issues, there are steps the federal, state, and local governments can take to begin to reverse these crises. The discussed recommendations fall into three categories; Invest, Address, and Transform.

1. Invest in Prevention and Conditions that Promote Health

  • Increase funding for CDC programs to reduce adverse childhood experiences, promote safe communities, and deter suicide risk.
  • Provide new resources for schools to increase substance use prevention, mental well-being, and resiliency programs.

2. Address the Worsening Drug Use and Overdose Crisis

  • Continue pandemic-related flexibilities for substance use treatment.
  • Target youth substance misuse.
  • Promote harm-reduction policies to reduce overdoses.

3. Transform Mental Health and Substance Use Prevention Systems.

  • Reduce stigma, especially among underserved populations.
  • Diversify the behavioral health workforce.

“We have a very reactive, after-the-fact approach that requires people to almost to be in crisis before they can get help,” said Arthur Evans, Jr., CEO of the American Psychological Association. Because of the state of our current system, the speakers agreed that it is vital to address root causes and expand access to prevention and early intervention services. While there is still much to do, the speakers concurred that 988, which went live on July 16th, is a groundbreaking start.

By Taylor Savage, Policy Intern