“Prevention, education, and connection” — How one changemaker channeled his grief to create a network of hope for communities in recovery
Sam Warach is on a mission to break the cycle of addiction, one community at a time.
From addressing mental health resilience among youth, to finding nearby treatment resources, to tracking personal health goals — thanks to Sam Warach, there’s an app for that — in fact, there are two.
After his older brother tragically died from a prescription-drug overdose in 2008, Sam became driven to prevent and reduce the issues associated with opioids, substance use disorders, and mental health conditions. When he realized his experience was a common one in communities around the country, he got to work filling the gaps in existing public health infrastructure, so he could prevent future tragedies like what occurred in his family from happening to others.
In 2017, Sam, along with two of his classmates from the University of New Hampshire, attended the CGI University (CGI U) annual meeting and committed to creating a software platform for people in recovery to connect users to recovery resources across the United States. The commitment later evolved into Hey NextStep, a mobile health application designed to help users find treatment and recovery resources for substance use disorders and mental health conditions, plan and track their personal health goals, boost their health literacy with its in-app wellness modules, engage with a passionate wellness community, and manage their overall wellness journey.
Two years later, Sam has since expanded his team and works on his commitment full time through the company he founded, NextStep HealthTech, finding new ways to build healthier communities. Demand for Hey NextStep led NextStep HealthTech’s launch of NextStep Bloom, an app designed to address youth mental health resilience, prevent substance use, and provide information to help cultivate health literacy. The apps provide support to anyone who needs it, from people in recovery to loved ones seeking assistance and guidance for opioid addiction and related concerns.
We chatted with Sam to hear more about his inspiration and plans to expand.
What was the inspiration behind your CGI U commitment? Why is this issue important to you?
In 2017, I committed to building a community that would improve access to care and health literacy for individuals, families, and communities who struggle with substance use disorders and other mental health conditions. Today, it’s clear that there is an ongoing and widespread societal crisis related to overall well-being, mental health, and substance use disorders in the United States and beyond, but at the time of my official CGI U Commitment to Action, the public awareness wasn’t as ubiquitous, and my project was still in its early stages. However, I had already known I wanted to help to make a difference on this issue after the grief I experienced when my older brother died from a prescription-drug overdose in 2008.
As my grief subsided, I became inspired and driven to prevent and mitigate the problems associated with opioid misuse, substance use disorders, and other mental health conditions. These problems include inadequate knowledge, sparse resources, fear, and stigma that have amplified this modern-day public health crisis. The extent to which these issues have pervaded our communities made clear to me that my experience was not unique, and I needed to dedicate myself to filling any gaps within the healthcare system that I could to prevent future tragedies and the grief my family experienced with my brother from happening to others. At NextStep, we strive to build a community that fosters numerous components of overall well-being and health literacy. We’re mission-driven to improve public health efforts for prevention, mitigation & recovery from substance use disorders and mental health conditions.
What was the most important lesson from your CGI U experience?
One of the biggest takeaways for us at NextStep is that authenticity is a driving force for impact. This is a core value of CGI U and it has helped pave the way for us to broaden our impact. I also learned an elevator ride is very short (after delivering a literal elevator pitch in an elevator to former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy).
Tell me about a moment when you first realized your commitment’s impact.
After I began speaking to different groups about NextStep and the driving force behind it, I was inundated with stories from friends, acquaintances, and strangers who shared deeply personal experiences about how inspired they were by the work NextStep is doing. I am deeply moved by the gratitude being expressed toward our mission to provide critical support for those in need and it encourages me to keep going.
My plan for the immediate future is to scale NextStep’s impact to empower individuals, families, and communities battling substance use disorders and other mental health conditions. Another thing I’m excited about is participating in a Clinton Health Matters Initiative panel this month to discuss how technology can combat the opioid crisis at the Smart City Expo in Atlanta.
How can other people get involved and support people in recovery?
It’s important for people to be educated about substance use disorders and mental health conditions in order to contribute to someone’s recovery process. Empathy is also a key ingredient, as these conditions are most effectively met with understanding. Helping to reduce stigma around these conditions is a big help that empowers individuals to shed light on their circumstances and seek out recovery resources. Being emotionally available for a friend or a loved one with a substance use disorder can be challenging at times, but it makes a world of difference.
People can also get involved and support by joining the NextStep Community. We know that prevention, education, and connection are some of the most impactful ways we can all support each other in this public health emergency. For individuals looking for specific resources, our application Hey NextStep (heynextstep.com) has a Care Resource Finder with over 100,000 resources across the United States; a digital recovery community; personal health management tools; and interactive wellness modules for overall health. We also offer an application for youth, NextStep Bloom (nextstepbloom.com), to improve resilience and health literacy for middle and high school-age children.
To learn more about CGI U and apply to join the class of CGI U 2020, visit www.cgiu.org