Demi Lovato’s New Single Confronts Addiction Head-on

Still image from video Demi Lovato song "Skin of My Teeth"

Plus: Child welfare training for first responders, Canada’s cigarette warnings and naloxone for Alaska’s fishing fleet

By Mark Mravic

New & Next: Media

Demi Lovato’s New Single Confronts Addiction

From child actor to global pop superstar, Demi Lovato has lived in the public eye. With that have come pressures and personal ordeals often played out in the spotlight: serious battles with alcohol and substance use—meth, crack, OxyContin, Molly, heroin, fentanyl—as well as crippling mental and behavioral health issues. Lovato, who identifies as non-binary, opened up about those struggles last year in a four-part YouTube series, Dancing With the Devil, centered on a near-fatal 2018 overdose.

But Lovato has plenty more to say. A new single, released last week, may be the rawest and most direct expression of the star’s struggles—and might serve as an unofficial anthem for the addiction and mental health crisis.

Channeling the intensity of Hole-era Courtney Love and the vocal dynamics of a young Kelly Clarkson over crunching hard-rock guitars and a driving beat, Lovato lashes out at her addiction—she calls it “a f—— disease”—and pleads for, or maybe demands, understanding:

Demi leaves rehab again
When is this shit gonna end
Sounds like the voice in my head
I can’t believe I’m not dead

I’m alive by the skin of my teeth
I survived but it got harder to breathe
Asking why doesn’t make it easier
Go easier on me
Goddammit I just wanna be free

And if you’re tempted to dismiss this as just the self-inflicted baggage of stardom, in the bridge Lovato reminds us of addiction’s universal toll:

I’m just trying to keep my head above water
I’m your son and I’m your daughter
I’m your mother
I’m your father

I’m alive

The video for the single contains some disturbing images—bathwater turning into blood; teeth fallen out in the sink; a creepy, camcorder-wielding old man who seems to embody addiction—but then, this is a disturbing subject.

Lovato debuted the song last week with a live performance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, in anticipation of the August release of a new album and the start of a world tour. “The process of making this album has been the most fulfilling yet,” Lovato said in a statement, “and I’m grateful to my fans and collaborators for being on this journey with me.” 

New & Next: Policy

A New Jersey Program to Train First Responders

New Jersey is putting its opioid settlement money to work quickly. The state last week announced a new pilot program, the Child Trauma Response Initiative, that will train law enforcement and community stakeholders on how to recognize and interact with families—particularly children—affected by addiction, and to connect them to care and support. The $2 million pilot, which will be paid for from the $16 million the state received in a settlement with the consulting firm McKinsey over its role in designing aggressive marketing campaigns for opioids, will launch in three municipalities—Asbury Park, Millville and Plainfield—which were chosen based on need and existing resources.

“Historically, child welfare systems have taken an unforgiving and punitive approach with families impacted by substance use disorder,” said Christine Norbut Beyer, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Children and Families. “This pilot demonstrates the state’s commitment to engaging families through a healing-centered lens, in an effort to reduce childhood trauma and keep families together.”

Canada Will Stamp a Warning on Every Single Cigarette

The U.S.’s northern neighbor continues to be out front in taking on addiction. Under the terms of a proposed federal regulation announced last week, every individual cigarette sold in Canada will carry its own warning message, a move intended to further curb smoking—especially among young people—in a country where it has been on a steady decline for decades. Though the exact language has yet to be decided, the country’s health agency is proposing the message “Poison in every puff,” which would be printed on the paper around the filter.

Said Carolyn Bennett, Canada’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, “Adding health warnings on individual tobacco products will help ensure that these essential messages reach people, including the youth who often access cigarettes one at a time in social situations, sidestepping the information printed on a package.”

Alaskan Fishing Industry Gets Opioid Response Kits

Alaska had long been below the national average in overdose death rates. But with the rise of fentanyl, the state was rocked in 2021 by the largest percentage increase in overdose fatalities in the U.S.—a shocking 75.3% uptick, compared to 15% nationally. Particularly hard hit has been the fishing industry, most of whose workers fall into the young adult age group at highest risk for overdoses. In response, the state last week launched Project Gabe, which will distribute opioid response kits—containing naloxone, fentanyl strips, a CPR mask and a sharps disposal—to fishing fleet vessels and seafood processing plants across the state. Named after Gabe Johnston, a seafood worker who died from overdose in January, the program kicked off in Juneau with the assembly of 150 kits; the project will eventually broaden its scope beyond fisheries to other industries.

Naloxone can save a life when used right away, and we need to ensure it is widely available in every ship, every processor, every workplace in Alaska,” said Anne Zink, MD, the state’s chief medical officer. “Project Gabe is a critical step in that direction, sadly in memory of a young man gone too soon.”

New & Next: People

Sumrell Joins Virtual Mental Health Provider Sesh

Sesh, a San Francisco-based provider of virtual mental health support, has added Lauren Sumrell, MHA, as vice president of clinical operations. Sumrell, previously VP for operations process improvement at Teledoc, will oversee Sesh’s clinical programming, network quality control and usage and satisfaction initiatives. Through its app and platform, Sesh provides virtual group mental health support ranging from one-time sessions to a monthly subscription plan for clients that allows unlimited sessions. “We are at the beginning of Sesh’s growth journey and are adding hundreds of group sessions, enterprise customers and therapists to our platform,” Sesh founder and CEO Tori Bergeron said. “Bringing Lauren on board will help ensure that we continue to scale while delivering quality group support for our members.”

Flag photo: Praveen Kumar Nandagiri