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Blog Post | May 10, 2019

Working with Communities to Join Prevention and Recovery Efforts

By Sarah Potter, Director of Full-Spectrum Prevention

SAFE Project believes that connecting prevention and recovery strategies in a tangible way is central to meeting both the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for both the substance use prevention and treatment fields.

Success in both lines of operation requires the connection of their respective strengths, a development in the field of substance use that is long overdue. SAFE Project is investing in building community by strengthening coalitions and anchoring locally-driven action planning in the shared goals of prevention and recovery, helping communities as they grapple with substance use and the scope of the opioid crisis.

Neither the opioid crisis nor the toll of under-treated substance use disorder is new. As a nation, we have failed to effectively prevent, treat, or provide essential care for substance use disorders. Our children, our loved ones, and our communities have paid the price.  While both the recovery and prevention fields lack adequate or stable funding, each has the central purpose of creating healthy people and communities, increasing access to services, and changing norms and stigma around substance use and health behavior. Both fields recognize that building community capacity and support are key to building individual and community resilience and assets, and ultimately sustainability.  Both understand their shared goal of advocacy in order to protect the vitality of their efforts.

Fortunately, we have seen large-scale support for addressing the opioid crisis from federal, state, and local partners. What we have seen less of, is direct support to communities to build their capacity to understand and respond to substance use, and in some cases, to make sense of the complicated matrix of systems and programmatic reforms at play. Existing resources are often not coordinated for best impact and communities lack “ownership” and “buy in” to sustain their efforts. The fact that funding for both prevention and recovery efforts are low and dramatically lower than the need justifies only aggravates this situation.

In light of the acute opioid crisis, the focus on prevention has diminished even as we have come to understand that addressing substance use before it starts is critical, including understanding the stress children are under, the factors that put children at risk and the impact of trauma on children. As new systems take shape, and changes in essential training and technical assistance come into being, gaps are emerging in many communities. Because of these challenges, and many more, a community must address substance abuse problems as partners and using a strategic process.

SAFE Project is working with select communities to implement an approach that emphasizes community-based planning with locally-oriented action steps.

We are looking to provide the tools to guide a coalition of prevention and recovery professionals, along with community stakeholders. Communities embracing this approach are seeing real impacts on how we approach people who are at-risk for substance use or need additional community recovery supports.

For example, in North Carolina, the Mitchell/Yancey Substance Abuse Task Force successfully launched the Community Options Addressing Pain and Stress initiative. This involved local physicians referring to alternate therapies (yoga, meditation, acupuncture, etc.) to treat pain, and alternate treatment providers offering complimentary or discounted services for those referred or attending free events they offer to the community. This effort was planned, driven, and supported by the community. They recently received funding from a local non-profit and a health insurance company to sustain this effort.

Anchoring the community focus in prevention and recovery is a way for SAFE Project to build the resilience of communities that will last beyond the current opioid crisis.