AHCCCS ‘Talk Heals’ public awareness campaign aims to tackle youth substance misuse


Soraya Marashi


The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) used supplemental funding to its annual Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Substance Abuse Block Grant funding to launch the “Talk Heals” public awareness campaign to reduce substance misuse among youth in the state.


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This supplemental funding was meant to address substance use prevention and treatment needs from the COVID-19 pandemic. AHCCCS told State of Reform that, in addition to funding direct prevention services through community-based organizations, prevention workforce development, and program evaluation, a media campaign to supplement these efforts would serve as an important tool in the public health toolbox to have a far-reaching impact on youth in the state.

“Talk Heals” is a campaign that encourages youth to talk to trusted people in their lives, using emojis and familiar scenarios in youth culture to effectively communicate relevant messaging with youth on platforms they use (social media, streaming apps, etc.) that they themselves would be likely to share with their peers. 

The campaign includes TV, outdoor, and online ads that encourage youth to talk to a trusted person in their lives rather than use substances to cope with life’s stressors and mental health challenges. According to AHCCCS, “Talk Heals” highlights the connection between mental health and substance use and provides education and resources for youth to use and promotes coping strategies and self-care in place of substance use.

AHCCCS said this campaign is meant to address current trends of youth substance misuse in Arizona. The Arizona Youth Survey, a survey of over 269,000 Arizona students in 8th-12th grade in 2022, reports that 30-day alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco use decreased from 2020 to 2022 in each grade level. Nearly one-third of students reported ever drinking alcohol more than a few sips, 20.4% had used marijuana, 18.1% had used marijuana concentrates such as wax pen, THC oil, etc., and 18.9% had used e-cigarettes.

AHCCCS said  the state conducted research on Arizona youth and their families when developing the campaign to gather information and ideas. 

“Research with youth and their families identified that mental and emotional struggles, which were caused or worsened by the pandemic, were a main reason for youth to choose alcohol and other drugs to relieve stress and emotional pain, depression, and anxiety – problems that are actually worsened by substance use,” the agency stated. “The intended result is improved mental wellness and resiliency among youth, including less substance use such as alcohol, marijuana, vaping, and prescription drugs.”

The messaging the campaign uses is built on youth reports and experiences of social isolation and loss of family and friends due to the pandemic, intense negative emotions and stress with a lack of coping skills, witnessing substance use around them in social situations, and feeling tired of hearing the same messages about substance use.

The campaign is expected to run through March 14th, 2023.