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A Guide to Building Your SAFE Community

Road sign with 'Plan Ahead'.


Whether the issue is drunk driving, breast cancer awareness or civil rights, history tells us large, complex problems require a coordinated community response to be successful. But without a unified strategy and focus on common goals, communities addressing a crisis as large as opioid addiction are not poised for success. By bringing together and working with a broad cross-section of local stakeholders, communities large or small can develop solutions that work for all those touched by the opioid crisis.

Creating coalitions is one of the most effective ways to solve complex problems and the core of creating a local movement. A coalition is simply a group of individuals and organizations with a common interest who agree to work together toward a common goal. In this case, a coalition concentrates a community’s focus on a particular problem, creates alliances among those who might not normally work together, and keeps the community’s approach consistent.

That consistency is key. There are myriad nonprofit organizations, healthcare facilities, government offices and others in communities that are all working hard to stem the opioid crisis. If their approaches differ significantly, and if they’re not collaborating, it can lead to a somewhat chaotic situation where little is actually accomplished.

With broad agreement across the country that the opioid epidemic is a shared challenge, a well-built local movement can convert a community’s focus on the problem into consistent action.

But, how do you build a coalition?

SAFE Project’s three-step guide is one way to approach creating your own coalition that is focused on action, one that will both build consensus and maximize efficacy in your community:

1. Research what else is happening.

One of our core values at SAFE Project is to not duplicate good work already being done. In that spirit, we recommend doing some uncomplicated research in advance. Look around your community. . . are there similar existing efforts in which you could get involved or add value? Specifically, is there an existing mechanism or coalition body that is already working on the opioid crisis, and with whom you can partner? Be sure to include national organizations who are doing great work in local communities; some examples include SAFE Project and Facing Addiction’s Pilot Community Project.

2. Identify your key community participants.

Once you have a good sense of potential partnerships or support, think about who in your community should be part of the first phase of your coalition. Think of this group as a task force. There are a broad range of representatives who can accelerate progress, but you want to start with a core group of community leaders who you know are essential to the effort. To get started, SAFE Project created a list below. You don’t have to have a representative from each group but , it is important to be as inclusive as possible and customize a list that best reflects your community’s culture. You will use this group to reach out to the broader community so more is often better; it’s unusual to hear about a coalition suffering because it has too many members.

Keep in mind, while there are a number of ways to contact these groups of people, in-person direct contact is always best.



  • State/Local Drug Prevention Office
  • Public Safety Executive
  • Health Department
  • School Administration/Board
  • Fire Chiefs
  • Criminal Judges and Court Professionals


Medical Community:

  • Treatment professionals
  • ER Doctors
  • First Responders
  • Pharmacists
  • Hospital CEOs
  • Community Behavioral Healthcare


Treatment and Recovery:

  • Treatment Professionals
  • Substance Use Disorder counselors
  • Harm reduction organizations
  • Persons in active recovery
  • Family and friends of those in active use or recovery
  • Families of those lost to opioid overdose


Law Enforcement:

  • Chief of Police (City) and/or Sheriff (County)
  • High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Office (If applicable)
  • DEA Agent in Charge
  • Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program liaison (City or County)
  • Corrections officers


Community Leaders:

  • Chamber of Commerce
  • Lions Club, Rotary, Elks, Masons, Veteran groups
  • Faith Community
  • School Principals
  • YMCA, 4H, or Boys & Girls Clubs
  • PTA and other family-based organizations


Business Leaders:

  • Chamber of Commerce
  • Employers
  • Union Leaders


3. Hold your first meeting.

Do not worry if you have as few as five community leaders or as many as 20, the important thing is you have found people who are willing to work together for the community. Though the topic that brings us all together, the opioid crisis, can be heavy, it’s your job as the coalition leader to bring energy and optimism to the movement. Since solutions might look different to each of your stakeholders, focus on defining the common problem you’re looking to solve.

One productive way to help identify your common problem is through a short community survey that takes the pulse of how the entire community views the impact of the opioid epidemic close to home. This is also a great way to let the broader community know about the coalition’s mission and engage their interest to help. Using your coalition members and their own personal local network of friends, colleagues and neighbors, distribute the survey via email to a broad cross-section of the community to get the widest possible sample. Tallying the results can be done relatively quickly and will best inform your next step – finding solutions that fit your community. SAFE Project has a sample survey available here to spark some ideas.  Just like the coalition you will build, the survey needs to reflect your community’s unique attributes and culture.

It’s important to keep the momentum going. Communicate the agreed-upon mission with the broader community including the results of the survey, and start developing an agenda for a larger community with your coalition. And don’t forget to share the workload—true engagement happens when people are working together, not just meeting together.


Need help?

Consider working with SAFE Project to obtain assistance with your community survey and help select specific solutions. Sometimes an outside facilitator is the best option to guide discussions toward solutions. SAFE can also share many best practices from across the country. All of our help is available at no-cost to you or your community.

Our SAFE Communities program will partner with communities across the nation to get their coalitions started and progress to town hall and forum events to include more of the community that result in action and match communities to resources, at no- to low-cost to them. We can help you identify your common issues, your shared solutions, and your action plan for moving forward, based on the feedback from your local stakeholders.