194: Pain in the Nation Report

Dr. J. Nadine Gracia, President and CEO of the Trust for America’s Health, details a new report that offers disturbing data on the drug, alcohol, and suicide crises facing the nation; Lt. Commander Traci Murray, Assistant Regional Administrator for...

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Dr. J. Nadine Gracia, President and CEO of the Trust for America’s Health, details a new report that offers disturbing data on the drug, alcohol, and suicide crises facing the nation; Lt. Commander Traci Murray, Assistant Regional Administrator for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, explains the benefits of ASTHO’s innovative Diverse Executives Leading in Public Health program; ASTHO publishes a video offering a six-step process agencies can use when planning hepatitis elimination efforts; and Dr. Jinlene Chan, Maryland’s Deputy Secretary of Public Health, cites Maryland’s COVID-19 testing team among her department's accomplishments in a new ASTHO Leadership Trailblazer article.

Trust for America's Health: 2022 Pain in the Nation Report

ASTHO Video: Planning Approaches for Viral Hepatitis Elimination

ASTHO Web Article: Leadership Trailblazer Spotlight: Jinlene Chan, Deputy Secretary, Maryland Department of Health

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This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Tuesday, June 7, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


As if a pandemic isn't enough, a new report issued by the Trust for America's Health offers disturbing new data on the drug, alcohol, and suicide crises impacting millions in the country.

Dr. J. Nadine Gracia is president and CEO of the Trust for America's Health. She discusses the 2022 Pain in the Nation Report in today's morning conversation.

Are the findings in this year's report troubling to you?


Absolutely. These are truly devastating numbers—this is more than 186,000 Americans whose lives have been lost due to drugs, alcohol, and suicide. And while we as a nation have seen this trend for two decades of a rising increase in these deaths, this single year increasing the highest on record really is a call to action for all of us as a nation.


This report does more than just round up the numbers.


Yeah, so, the report really does present not only the data, but also some solutions and policy recommendations that Congress, federal, state, and local governments can be taking to take action.

First, we really need to invest in prevention. We have to focus on—for example, among our youth—ensuring that youth-serving programs actually are trauma-informed, culturally appropriate, and linguistically appropriate to meet the needs of our young population. And that school programs, for example, can focus on students' mental health and wellbeing and resilience and preventing substance misuse.

Secondly, we also have to address the long standing health inequities that we have seen in our nation. Certainly COVID-19 has exposed and further exacerbated those systemic inequities; and so, we have to tailor our prevention and our outreach and education efforts to reach communities that are disproportionately impacted—including communities of color—and also address those broader social and economic conditions to ensure that they have access, for example, to safe housing, to employment and education opportunities, that we address food insecurity and housing insecurity that really impacts so many families.

And thirdly, I would say we need to address the drug overdose crisis, ensuring that there is increased access to overdose prevention medications like naloxone.

And then lastly, we've got to transform our mental health and substance misuse prevention system: we've got to ensure that there's parity when we talk about access to mental health services and substance use treatment services; and continue to focus on combating stigma around mental health; and then bring those services to where people are—having even more emphasis, for example, on community-based services or integration of care and mental healthcare so that we can ensure that services are accessible and available to everyone that needs it.


How would you like public health officials to use the information in the report?


Well, importantly, public health officials have long understood that mental health is part of our overall health and wellbeing and have certainly been on the front lines of seeing the mental health crisis and the drug overdose crisis that the nation has been experiencing for nearly two decades. And so, this can serve as a further call to action and driver for public health officials to, one, utilize that data to help inform and educate our policy makers and other decision makers around evidence-based policies and programs that will really help to transform our systems and take bold actions to reverse these trends.

They can also be conveners bringing together different sectors because it's going to take a whole of society approach—bringing together schools and housing and employers—to be able to address these longstanding issues and how to bring these types of programs and services to where people are. And they can be an educator informing the public about this crisis and how to be able to recognize signs and be able to take action to really help support individuals and families in our communities.


What do you hope will come from the findings contained in this document?


That this report, again, will really serve as a clarion call for action, that we must act urgently as a nation. That is going to take all of us and that everyone has a role to play that our policymakers from federal, state, and local level have an important role to play, to invest in prevention, to really advance these types of evidence-based policies and programs that the report highlights to be able to promote mental health and wellbeing.

And we talk about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,  the mental health impacts from the pandemic, but even the crisis that was existing before the pandemic will continue long beyond the pandemic.

And so, now is the time for us to truly invest in intervention to address this crisis and ensure that everyone has access to the services that they need, and that will de-stigmatize mental health and recognize that, by taking this whole society effort, we truly can promote mental health and wellbeing across the nation.


Read the 2022 report using the link in the show notes.


ASTHO is working to assemble a new class of professional students for ASTHO's innovative Diverse Executives Leading in Public Health program. The application deadline was last Friday.

Lt. Commander Traci Murray is a commissioned nurse in the U.S. public health service. She also is one of the first about to graduate from the program.


One of the biggest things that I learned from the educational sessions is around really my role as an advocate for health equity throughout the public health system, right. So, how I can truly serve all populations, that's been key and very important to my work and my passion, but I've also learned so much about myself as a leader.


Murray says the program helped her work on becoming a more authentic ally to communities that she might one day serve.


And so, what that looks like for myself as an African American woman being an ally to, say, a Native American group—where I'm not from that community but I want to support whatever their needs are to help them achieve health equity, to help them thrive, and have the best opportunities in their life. And so, what that looks like for my own internal challenges of, "Okay, what am I bringing to the table and how do I present authentically? But also, how I am received?" And I challenged myself with this, even in my own life.


The next cohort begins its work in September.


Hepatitis is in the news a lot these days. It began with reports of unexplained infections among children, and now some strawberries are contaminated.

ASTHO has a new video offering a six-step process agencies can use when planning hepatitis elimination efforts. You can watch the video using the link in the show notes.


Finally this morning, Maryland's COVID-19 testing team is among the accomplishments mentioned by Maryland's deputy secretary of public health, Dr. Jinlene Chan. She talks about the state's COVID response during an ASTHO Leadership Trailblazer article. You can read more using the link in the show notes.


That'll do it for today's newscast. We are back tomorrow morning with more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day.

Traci Murray PhD MPH

Assistant Regional Administrator, SAMHSA

J. Nadine Gracia MD MSCE

President and CEO, Trust for America’s Health