What Cities Really Need to Tackle the Opioid Crisis and Mental Health

By on August 28, 2017
From CityLab:  In November 2015, New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray launched ThriveNYC, a comprehensive mental health prevention and treatment program funded by the city to the tune of nearly $850 million. This is the program responsible for the ads and billboards found around New York City displaying messages like “Anxiety doesn’t define me,” and for training 250,000 mental health “First Aid” responders, to help people with mental illness and substance abuse disorders. The plan has been working well enough that McCray has expanded this mission to 185 cities, which are working under the banner Cities Thrive Coalition.

McCray’s initiative unfolds right at a time when the White House and Congress have been pushing to dramatically scale back funding for mental health and substance abuse treatment as provided by the American Healthcare Act, Medicaid, and other federal programs. Which is to say, the Cities Thrive Coalition is congealing at a time when these 180-plus cities may only have each other to count on in the fight for mental wellness.

The project also launches during a time when police have been under intense scrutiny for responding violently to people with mental illness, and as opioid abuse and overdoses have become a national concern. The ThriveNYC plan has made progress on these issues despite flying into the federal headwinds of healthcare cuts. So far, the city has trained over 2,500 NYPD officers in Crisis Intervention Training, so they can deploy tools other than guns and handcuffs when encountering people who might be suffering mental or drug-induced breakdowns. And more than 2,300 New Yorkers have been trained to identify the signs and symptoms of someone who may be having an attack due to depression, psychosis, or substance misuse.

CityLab spoke with First Lady McCray in New Orleans, where she and Cities Thrive representatives spoke to the U.S. Conference of Mayors about the urgency of their work. This also happened to be the day that Trump finally relented in declaring the opioid crisis a national emergency after days of saying he wouldn’t. What this means has yet to be defined, and McCray says her neighbor New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who headed Trump’s opioid commission, didn’t reach out to her, despite her work in this area.

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