Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Arizona’s Community Data Project Makes Data Accessible

Date Published:May 22, 2014

Arizona’s Community Data Project—a searchable database containing state and local substance abuse-related data—puts vital information into the hands of communities, practitioners, and policymakers. This “one-stop shopping” website provides easy and immediate access to the data users need to make prevention and policy decisions that are timely, well-informed, and most likely to have a positive impact.

Background

When the Arizona Governor's Office for Children, Youth, and Families was awarded a Strategic Prevention Framework State Incentive Grant (SPF SIG) in 2004, one of its first tasks was to establish a Statewide Epidemiology Workgroup (SEW)—a collaborative group of agencies and individuals focused on collecting and using data to inform and enhance prevention practice.

The SEW was tasked with creating an epidemiological (or “epi”) profile—a detailed snapshot of the substance abuse problems affecting the state. Communities could then use the profile to identify priority problems and more effectively target their prevention efforts to populations in greatest need.

Jeanne Blackburn, current Program Administrator for the Arizona Substance Abuse Partnership—Arizona’s SPF SIG advisory council—came on board to prepare the state’s first profile, which was released in 2006. Completing the profile was a great accomplishment, but over time she and other SEW members became aware of many communities struggling to use the profile’s data.  

“In those days, the epi profile was a hardbound report, so it wasn’t very user-friendly. And we hadn’t developed a marketing plan or any trainings to help communities use it,” explains Blackburn. “If a community wanted to use the data contained in the report for a grant application, or to gather data for a needs assessment, they had to recreate the tables and charts contained in the profile from scratch—or go to the SEW to request the raw data . Over time, we began to realize we needed a better, more user-friendly way to share the information we’d collected. We just weren’t sure how.”

Community Data Project Development

The answer came in 2009, when Phillip Stevenson, Director of the Statistical Analysis Center of the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission (ACJC), became Arizona’s SEW chair. The ACJC had recently decided to put online all of the criminal justice indicators included in the Arizona Youth Survey (AYS). Under Dr. Stevenson’s lead, the SEW decided to put the survey’s substance abuse indicators online, as well. “By making all of the data available,” says Blackburn, “we would be able to show the bigger picture of what was going on in our communities.”

Within the year, Arizona’s Community Data Project had been born: The state’s first web-based data dissemination tool, containing more than 200 indicators related to the consumption, consequences, and context of substance use. Since that time, users have been able to search a range of indicators at the county and community levels, as well as examine trends according to variables such as gender, grade, race, and ethnicity. In addition, users can create and/or download color-coded data charts

Supporting the Use of CDP

To ensure that communities and others can take full advantage of CDP’s features, Arizona offers a range of training options, both online and in-person. The CDP website, itself, contains five pre-recorded webinars, including an overview of the database’s features, and additional webinars to help users use CDP data for program evaluation, prevention and intervention, grant writing, and decision making.

For more in-depth training, users can request training at no cost from the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center, Arizona’s training contactor or from the ACJC. Trainings range from two hours (for an introduction) to all day.  

“It has been wonderful to see the number and type of organizations that have requested the training, who now have greater access to a variety of data and know what to do with it because of the CDP,” says Stevenson.

Enhancements and Future Directions

In 2012, the ACJC expanded the CDP to include additional indicators and features. One unique innovation was the addition of the Drug Severity Index, which helps to capture the magnitude of the substance use problems within the state’s 15 counties. The Index generates a composite score for each region, based on the number of youth using substances, the frequency of use, and the level of risk for the substances being used.

“The Index allows communities to move beyond the simple reporting of how many students are using a specific drug within a specific timeframe,” explains Blackburn. “It captures factors such as frequency of use and poly-substance use. This is important, because we know from our prescription drug misuse and abuse initiative, for example, that there is a high prevalence of alcohol use with prescription drug use—which is obviously more problematic than either one of them by themselves.”

Moving forward, Arizona will continue to update the CDP with new data as it becomes available. It will also continue to add new indicators. “We’ve been talking to coalitions to find out what additional indicators would be useful. From these conversations, we plan to add indicators from national data sources, as well as other indicators that are at the nexus of substance abuse, such as economic indicators and violence data,” says Blackburn. “We also plan to add some new reporting functions to simplify some of the current data output processes. For example, we hope to add in functionality that will enable users to download all relevant data for a county or region at one time.”

Since the Arizona’s Community Data Project was first developed, it has served as a model to several other states. Louisiana, Montana, and Utah have all developed similar databases under their SPF SIG grant.

“Our goal has been for the Community Data Project to become a place where communities and policymakers can go to access data to inform key decisions,” says Blackburn, “I think we are well on our way to achieving this goal.”

To learn more about the Arizona Community Data Project, visit their website.

 

Developed under the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies contract (Reference #HHSS277200800004C).