While many prevention workers across the country have to search the Internet or travel from agency to agency to collect data on substance abuse in their communities, those in Minnesota have a one-stop-online shop for nearly everything they need to know about alcohol, tobacco, and other drug (ATOD) use in their state.
“Substance Use in MN (SUMN)”—accessible at www.sumn.org —is a public data warehouse that provides information on 81 indicators of ATOD consumption and consequences. The state Department of Human Services launched the website in 2008 to offer local prevention advocates and state policymakers easy access to accurate and timely data to guide program development, priority setting, and funding applications.
“[The database] has been tremendously helpful at the community level, improving the ability of practitioners to use data for planning and to have accurate data to show their needs,” says Phyllis Bengtson, principal planner and evaluation lead with the department’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division. Previously, with data more difficult for community coalitions to find, the state often received prevention proposals based on people’s perceptions of their community’s needs, rather than on true numbers, she explains.
Using data to assess prevention needs and develop appropriate prevention activities is a key component of SAMHSA’s Strategic Prevention Framework, a five-step planning process to guide the selection, implementation, and evaluation of effective prevention activities. SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) helps fund SUMN and Minnesota’s State Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroup (SEOW), which oversaw the construction and design of the database. The SEOW is a collaborative effort of state agencies, organizations, and individuals that is charged with collecting, compiling, and using epidemiological data to guide and enhance substance abuse prevention practice statewide.
Other states have created similar online data warehouses, but Minnesota was one of the first, and its database is among the most sophisticated. Users can search data at the state, region, or county level and by topic, location, year, or demographic, including age, grade, gender, and race or ethnicity. They can display data in multiple formats, such as tables, maps, charts, and bar graphs. They also can view substance use trends over time—with some data going back 15 years—which is critical for assessing needs and evaluating program impact.
SUMN has been invaluable for statewide planning as well. When Minnesota received a five-year, $10.5 million Strategic Prevention Framework State Infrastructure Grant (SPF SIG) from SAMHSA in 2009, its SPF SIG Advisory Council turned to the online warehouse for data on statewide substance abuse patterns. The Council then used these data to set the state’s prevention priorities.
“SUMN has been a wonderful resource for the SPF SIG Advisory Council,” says Melissa Boeke, who, as an epidemiologist for SAMHSA’S Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies, provides training to the Council on using and analyzing data. Moving forward, the Council will use data from SUMN to review applications from community coalitions interested in improving their prevention infrastructure and efforts.
Updated regularly, SUMN includes links to Minnesota’s Annual Epidemiological Profile of Substance Use, Race and Ethnicity Epidemiological Profiles, substance use fact sheets for each of the state’s 87 counties, and prevention and treatment resources. It also offers an extensive toolkit for using SUMN, which provides information on finding, analyzing, and presenting data. Visit www.sumn.org .