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

New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray has taken her city’s plan for addressing substance abuse and mental illness and expanded it to 185 cities.
Paul Wright shows a picture of himself in the hospital after a near fatal overdose in 2015, Thursday, June 15, 2017, at the Neil Kennedy Recovery Clinic in Youngstown, Ohio.
Paul Wright shows a picture of himself in the hospital after a near fatal overdose in 2015, Thursday, June 15, 2017, at the Neil Kennedy Recovery Clinic in Youngstown, Ohio.David Dermer/AP

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.