Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Epidemiological Profiles

When States, Tribes, and Jurisdictions begin to apply the Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF), they use epidemiological data to assess the prevalence (i.e., how many individuals are affected) and impact of substance abuse and related behavioral health problems. The resulting epidemiological profile helps policymakers and administrators of States, Jurisdictions and Tribes to determine the priority problems and target populations to which prevention efforts and resources will be directed.

An epidemiological profile makes use of behavioral health indicators that measure consumption patterns, consequences, risk and protective factors, and other key population characteristics in order to provide a detailed snapshot of the problems affecting a particular population. It “serves as a source of quantitative data from which needs are identified and priorities set for a given area.”  Planners use the epidemiological profile to:

  • Set priorities among populations who need services
  • Provide a basis for determining or projecting future needs
  • Increase a community’s general awareness of the substance abuse and related behavioral health problems affecting its residents
  • Disseminate data for use by prevention providers so that they are aware of the key issues facing the populations they serve
  • Make the case for why funding and other resources are needed to address particular substance abuse problems
  • Respond to public needs (e.g., educators, funding agencies, media, policymakers)
  • Modify the composition of planning groups to reflect the demographics in the service area

Guidelines and templates exist to assist States, Tribes, and Jurisdictions in developing their individual epidemiological profiles. But approaches to assessing, interpreting, and presenting epidemiological data and the implications of those data will vary.

Similarly, epidemiological data often have features that require caution in their interpretation. There are often a number of technical issues and potential limitations encountered when using epidemiological data. 

Finally, once the data has been collected and analyzed, it needs to be summarized and presented effectively to stakeholders, including community members, funders, researchers, planners, and other decision-makers. Epidemiological data and findings can be summarized and reported in a variety of ways, such as abstracts and briefings, fact sheets, posters and flyers, press releases, and through community meetings and conferences.