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American Samoa supports Behavioral Health and Healthcare Workforce needs

American Samoa is working to address behavioral health and workforce needs in several ways. In 2021, Governor Lemanu P.S. Mauga identified addressing the drug epidemic in American Samoa as a top priority for his administration to build on progress made under previous administrations. The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (the NGA Center) launched a yearlong Stimulant and Polysubstance Use Policy Academy to support states and territories, including American Samoa, in adopting more comprehensive policy approaches in response to stimulant polysubstance use challenges.

An NGA policy academy is a yearlong opportunity for states and territories to assess their current operating environment, share successes and best practices, learn from experts, exchange ideas with other states and territories, and develop and execute an action plan to achieve program and policy changes based on identified jurisdictional goals. The NGA Center worked with core teams that were made up of representatives from the Governors’ offices, alcohol and drug abuse directors, Medicaid directors, senior health and public health agency leadership, state opioid coordinators, state administering agencies, and other policymakers and stakeholders.

American Samoa’s overarching goal for the policy academy centered on a new framework through which all substance use planning and policies would flow to coordinate across agencies and align territorial systems.


Leading into the policy academy, American Samoa identified the following goals: 

  • Develop a robust governance framework for the coordination of agency silos, with a charge to improve communication among stakeholders and align missions with the framework and legislation. 
  • Ensure relevant cross-agency information sharing is coordinated, making use of digital tools and technology to inform data-driven decision making, policy recommendations, and promote education and awareness campaigns to reach diverse audiences. 
  • Conduct a review of available funding streams to utilize existing funding more effectively and increase funding by leveraging or appropriating territory dollars and securing private funds. 


The project team decided early on that the starting point of the action planning process would be the creation of a framework through which other goals could be accomplished. The Governor and his staff envisioned a commission that would include membership from various territory agencies and offices, the Governor and his office, community organizations and other subject matter experts who would be charged with serving as a coordinating body to organize a comprehensive substance use initiative. As a result, Governor Lemanu signed Executive Order 003-2022 on May 12, 2022, establishing the Comprehensive Substance Abuse Council (CSAC). Through this council, the other goals identified by the project team related to cross-agency information sharing, data coordination and funding were reviewed, and a plan was put in place to address these issues through its work plan. 

At the July 3, 2022, opening of the first convening of the CSAC, leadership from villages and religious institutions were invited to participate in the meeting, and the Governor issued a call to action for core institutions at the village-level to take part in the ownership of the territory’s substance use challenges and offer solutions. The religious and village leaders were identified as a crucial component of the council’s work given their influence on village-level policies and community norms.  

The commission established committees focused on education and outreach, enforcement and investigation, and rehabilitation and treatment and included members of the policy academy project team from the Governor’s office and related health agencies to ensure alignment of the project goals with the commission’s work. The CSAC began quarterly meetings in November 2022 to continue discussion of relevant issues related to substance use in American Samoa and offer possible solutions. One of the first accomplishments of the CSAC was the transition and consolidation of Behavioral Service Programs from the Department of Human and Social Services to the Department of Health. 


During the policy academy, NGA provided technical assistance to American Samoa on the following topics to support the development of their comprehensive plan: 

1  Faith-based, culturally informed harm reduction approaches that included a peer-to-peer learning call with Connecticut and the Imani Project on faith-based treatment programs;

2  Housing harm reduction for methamphetamine use; 

3  Funding models for short term inpatient treatment center and ways to utilize the center for incarcerated populations;

4  Tribal and culturally responsive treatment programs;

5  Health department consolidation strategies;

6  Contingency management models; and

7  Stigma reduction for treatment of substance use disorder (SUD).

Providing technical assistance to address healthcare workforce shortages was another helpful resource for the project team. In addition to a desire to construct a new behavioral health facility, the ability to attract and retain qualified and well-trained behavioral health providers and staff to carry out the work became another focus area for future development. While ongoing recruitment efforts from outside of the territory from neighboring countries and from the United States mainland may provide a short-term solution, there is a need to further develop the pipelines and local workforce in fields across the board to include healthcare, public administration, public policy, law, finance/accounting and other science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics related fields.

As a result, NGA invited American Samoa to join the Next Generation of the Healthcare Workforce Knowledge Exchange Network so the team could receive technical assistance, resources and engage in peer to peer learning to support the work started through the CSAC. Project teams in the network are working to implement strategies to strengthen and grow the healthcare workforce.

Read part 2 of the commentary, which includes the goals for governance, data, and funding later this week in Samoa News.