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SAMHSA’s 20th Prevention Day: Leading with Science, Improving Lives

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Date: March 19, 2024
Category: Prevention

We’re building on the momentum of SAMHSA’s 20th Prevention Day and looking ahead to National Prevention Week (May 12-18).

About 4,300 prevention professionals, researchers, and advocates from across the country attended SAMHSA’s 20th Prevention Day held outside of Washington, D.C., on January 29, 2024. This was the largest Prevention Day gathering to date, offering 83 sessions with about 200 speakers ― leading with science, advancing the prevention of substance use and misuse, and enhancing lives. The prevention field’s synergy and positive energy were palpable.

The opening plenary featured:

Then, to tell the story of prevention, I started with data. The data show us a few things.

  • First, the SUD prevention field should be proud of our successes. Youth substance use has declined significantly over the past 20 years, as indicated by the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Monitoring the Future survey and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey. SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health also shows that the vast majority of adolescents are not using substances.
  • At the same time, there are significant challenges that call us to action, including rising alcohol-attributable deaths and drug overdose deaths, the changing epidemiology of populations at elevated risk (with a particular focus on disparities and inequities), the increasingly dynamic landscape of substance use (and an increasingly toxic illicit drug supply), and the link between mental health issues and substance use.

We need to:

  • Use the data to inform our messaging. This includes the use of data on non-use of substances, as part of a social norms approach (which emphasizes the impact of peer communities on substance use).
  • Look at how we’re engaging with diverse communities ― ensuring they are at the table ― and approaching this work through an equity lens.
  • Practice prevention across the lifespan, not just among youth.
  • Partner with those addressing mental health, who can be champions for substance use prevention. (It is worth noting that many of those with substance use also have co-occurring mental health conditions).
  • Involve more youth in prevention programming* ― such as problem-solving, communications skills, and broader prevention programs that address healthy relationships, connectedness, and safety.

I also took the opportunity to share the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention’s (CSAP’s) new vision, mission, strategic priorities, guiding principles, and a comprehensive path forward. CSAP’s key imperatives are:

  • Lift up the prevention conversation and tell the prevention story including prevention’s positive impact on communities across our country.
  • Support a holistic approach to prevention addressing the full spectrum of risk and protective factors (at the individual, family, school, community, and society levels).
  • Increase the number of communities exposed to proven prevention strategies.
  • Identify and develop innovative strategies to build and translate science-based and practice-based evidence.
  • Build new and strengthen existing partnerships and collaborations.
  • Create opportunities for multi-directional input from grantees, partners, and the field to inform our work.
  • Provide outstanding customer service to grantees and the field.

Ultimately, we aim to prevent use in the first place, prevent the progression of use, and reduce harm. And we have the prevention playbook to do so.

We then transitioned to a panel with former CSAP directors (Dona Dmitrovic, Johnnetta Davis-Joyce, Frances M. Harding, and Beverly Watts Davis). During a Q&A, they reflected on their prevention journeys and shared pearls of wisdom:

  • Prevention is foundational ― you can build everything else (mental health promotion, violence prevention, etc.) on it.
  • There are so many heroes in the prevention field, who fill our hearts with joy.
  • We’ve come so far, with the use of prevention science and young people going into prevention will drive the field forward.
  • Preventionists know how to connect the dots and are strong.
  • Prevention, harm reduction, treatment, recovery, and mental health promotion are now working together.
  • Prevention needs you. Look around your community; for example, go into the vape shops when kids get out of school.
  • Start now with prevention, no matter what your age, or where you are in life.
  • One day can change your life. One moment can change someone else’s life.

Later, Dr. Delphin-Rittmon hosted an “Ask the Assistant Secretary” meeting with youth, at which she shared resources for youth preventionists and answered a range of questions.

Throughout the day at the Prevention Action Center (CSAP’s interactive learning hub), attendees took part in activities and learned about SAMHSA’s campaigns.

In the closing plenary, Tom Coderre, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of SAMHSA, emphasized that SAMHSA’s doors are open and made one request to the audience: go back to your communities and share the value of prevention with potential new partners. Thanks to you, prevention is working.

The next day, for the SAMHSA Power Session at CADCA’s National Leadership Forum, Mr. Coderre joined the directors of SAMHSA’s centers for prevention, treatment, and mental health services, showcasing our collaborative work in advancing the nation’s behavioral health.

Reflecting on our 20th Prevention Day, I walked away with a strong feeling of hope and community, energized by the voices of thousands of people who share the common goal of helping individuals, families, and communities to thrive. That is the work of prevention.

We look forward to your participation in National Prevention Week (May 12-18, 2024), and to seeing you at the next SAMHSA Prevention Day on February 3, 2025.

*See NSDUH Table 3.9B: “Participated in a Prevention Program or Group in Past Year”