Epidemiology is the study of the distribution and determinants of the health and wellness of populations. In the substance abuse prevention field, epidemiologists study the patterns of use and abuse and the factors associated with an increased or decreased risk of developing substance abuse problems. Substance abuse epidemiology is the science behind SAMHSA’s Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF), ensuring that decisions are data-driven and appropriate. In substance abuse prevention, epidemiologists are concerned with two big questions:
- What is the nature, extent, and pattern of substance use behaviors and their associated consequences?
- What risk and protective factors influence the substance abuse behaviors?
These two questions drive the SPF's planning process. Basing decisions on epidemiological data ensures that prevention programs are selected appropriately and implemented effectively to address identified priority problems and reach those populations in greatest need. Beginning with SPF step one, States, Tribes, and Jurisdictions create epidemiological profiles to describe the nature, magnitude, and distribution of substance use and related consequences. This information helps to inform stakeholders from the multiple organizations, agencies, and individuals across the State whose activities affect substance abuse prevention decision-making.
This section is designed to help practitioners:
- Use epidemiology at each step of the SPF to ensure that prevention efforts are data-driven and outcomes-focused
- Identify and use different types of epidemiological data to focus and refine prevention activities based on substance abuse patterns and consequences
- Develop an epidemiological profile that answers the “two big questions” above for a particular State, Tribe, or Jurisdiction
- Use a variety of sources and tools to find existing data or gather new data
- Analyze data in a systematic way to inform prevention planning, implementation, and evaluation efforts
- Enlist the support of epidemiological workgroups to provide strong analytical capacity and help interpret and communicate epidemiological data and results to key stakeholders