SAMHSA’s Service to Science, a national initiative that helps local organizations strengthen their innovative and homegrown substance-abuse prevention programs through improved evaluation methods, will serve 47 programs over the next year. The programs will receive tailored technical assistance and support that will enable them to better demonstrate evidence of their effectiveness in preventing or reducing substance abuse. The goal of Service to Science is to increase and diversify the pool of evidence-based prevention programs available to states, tribes, and jurisdictions.
Service to Science is administered by SAMHSA’s Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies, which maintains a Service to Science representative in each of its five regional service areas. The programs selected for the 2013 cohort hail from 24 states located across the five service areas, as well as three Pacific Jurisdictions.
To be considered for Service to Science, candidate programs must first seek nomination from their states’ or jurisdictions’ Single State Agencies or National Prevention Network representatives. Nominated programs then apply directly to Service to Science. This year, 89 programs were nominated and 64 applied.
The selection process is a rigorous one, according to Kim Dash, Chief of Service to Science. “We choose programs based on a number of criteria, including innovation in design or focus, responsiveness to local needs, practical experience with populations served, and commitment and readiness to engage in evaluation activities.”
Taken as a group, this year’s programs serve populations similar to those targeted by previous Service to Science programs, with a few important differences. The majority still focuses on preventing or reducing substance use by youth aged 12 to 18 years and by young adults. However, a greater number of programs are working to improve access to health care and prevention services for underserved populations.
Dash explains: “One of the SAMHSA priorities we emphasized was overcoming health disparities. Because of that emphasis, the 2013 cohort includes more programs that target populations at high risk for substance abuse and for whom few evidence-based programs exist. These include African Americans; Latinos/Latinas; Native Americans; Pacific Islanders; women and girls; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth; older adults; and those facing economic hardship.”
The programs selected for 2013 also include a few programs designed for young children ages 0 to 8 that focus on strengthening families and children’s coping abilities to reduce the likelihood of adverse childhood experiences – traumatic events that have been linked to a greater risk of substance abuse later in life. “So we’re seeing more primary prevention programs that move farther ‘upstream’ to address risk and protective factors, such as neglect, in very young children, that place them at risk for future substance abuse,” says Dash.
Participants in the Service to Science initiative are embarking on a yearlong journey. Starting in December, they will participate in a multitude of training and technical assistance activities designed to help them apply more rigorous evaluation methods to their work. These activities include online seminars, onsite consultations, follow-up technical assistance, peer networking, and the opportunity to compete for subcontracts to build evaluation capacity.
“We have an excellent group of program participants, and the Service to Science team is eager to work with them in the coming months,” Dash says.
For more information on this SAMHSA initiative, contact the Service to Science lead in your service area.