Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Service to Science: What's In It for States? Tennessee, New York, and Wisconsin Share Their Stories

Date Published:Jun 28, 2012

SAMHSA’s Service to Science is a national initiative that helps local organizations strengthen their innovative and homegrown substance-abuse prevention programs through improved evaluation methods. By increasing their evaluation capacity, local organizations can produce more credible evidence of their programs’ effectiveness to prevent or reduce substance abuse or related behavioral health problems.

Since 2005, more than 500 local programs have been selected for and participated in Service to Science, which is implemented by SAMHSA’s Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies. The benefits of participation are multifaceted, ranging from access to evaluation experts and improved evaluation methods to the opportunity to apply for funding for evaluation enhancements. Indeed, some programs that have participated in Service to Science have gone on to apply for and have been accepted into national, evidence-based program registries, such as SAMHSA’s National Registry of Effective Programs and Practices.

Participating programs, however, are not the only ones to benefit. “The beauty of Service to Science is that the training and technical assistance it provides can meet a range of objectives, not only from the perspective of the local program but also from the state’s perspective,” says Associate Service to Science Chief Shai Fuxman. Ultimately, Service to Science aims to help states, tribes, and jurisdictions develop a larger and more diverse pool of evidence-based substance abuse programs with which to address their prevention needs.

To this end, Service to Science programs must seek nominations from their Single State Agencies (State drug prevention agency) or National Prevention Network representatives. These representatives use a variety of approaches to identify programs that are eligible and meet the unique substance abuse prevention needs of their states. Representatives from three states – Tennessee, New York, and Wisconsin – provide examples of diverse motivations for recruiting and nominating programs for participation in Service to Science.

Tennessee: Better Value for Prevention Dollars

Since the launch of Service to Science in 2005, 11 Tennessee-based programs have participated in the initiative. “The training and technical assistance they provide is excellent. We hear great things from our service providers,” says Tennessee’s Director of Prevention Service Angela McKinney Jones.

When looking for programs to nominate, McKinney Jones relies on local input. “We leave it up to local agencies to suggest their own programs; we want to nominate the programs they find valuable, because the sponsoring agencies really have to be invested in the process of their programs becoming evidence based.”  

To raise awareness of the initiative, McKinney Jones delivers a special pitch to her state’s Prevention Advisory Council, which includes representatives from local agencies and coalitions. They, in turn, generate nominations. “I make a case for why Service to Science is important,” she says. “In the field of prevention, we have a special burden to show that what we’re doing has been proven effective. Service to Science helps us ensure that what we’re funding is of high quality, and gives agencies the tools to evaluate their work. So the state gets stronger programs and better value for its prevention dollars.”

To help bolster her case with the council, she often invites a previous Service to Science participant to share their experiences.

While some states have specific criteria for the types of programs they will nominate, Tennessee takes a more open-ended approach. “Our criteria is simple: We nominate programs that are doing good work, that are not on the National Registry of Effective Programs and Practices list, and that need a leg up in terms of evaluation,” McKinney Jones says.

One such example is Nurses for Newborns, a Tennessee-based program and 2011 participant that provides regular home visits to mothers using alcohol or drugs or with a history of mental illness. “Nurses for Newborns had quite a bit of evidence behind it, but it was still missing out on some funding streams. Service to Science worked closely with program staff, showing them how to document their program outcomes and show that changes in these outcomes were associated with Nurses for Newborns participation,” McKinney Jones explains.

Following its participation, Nurses for Newborns applied for and received a Service to Science mini subcontract to build evaluation capacity for evidence-based interventions – funding that participants can compete for once they have completed their follow-up technical assistance and pending the availability of funds. This additional funding helped the program address gaps in evaluation and, specifically, hire a statistician. “The Service to Science subcontract was a boon to Nurses for Newborns, but also benefited Tennessee by providing funding for evaluation without drawing on state prevention funds,” says McKinney Jones.

New York: Meeting State Criteria for ‘Evidence-based’

Eighteen programs from New York have participated in Service to Science since 2005. According to Pat Zoni, addictions program specialist with the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, “Service to Science helps New York increase the number of evidence-based programs by training providers in how to evaluate their programs more thoroughly.”

This is particularly important for New York, which last year created its own Evidence-Based Prevention Review Panel to evaluate programs based on specific state prevention criteria. By 2018, New York is looking to increase the percentage of Evidence-Based Prevention Review Panel-accredited services that local agencies must provide, from the current 40 percent to 70 percent.

To increase the number of prevention programs that meet the panel’s criteria, the state looks to Service to Science. “The technical assistance these agencies receive really helps them move along [the evidence-based continuum] and prepare to submit their program to the panel,” says Zoni.

In soliciting candidates for Service to Science, Zoni sends out the Call for Nominations to more than 200 service providers around the state. She also relies on staff in field offices to identify innovative programs in their regions. Those programs that apply for nomination must also submit additional information to the state, explaining how their program aligns with the state’s prevention priorities.

According to Zoni, Service to Science is beneficial because it helps local programs determine whether they are producing the outcomes expected. She provides this example: “Many New York providers implement programs intended to increase alcohol awareness, but we don’t yet know if they are effective.” So last year the state nominated one of these Alcohol Awareness Programs for participation in Service to Science: Project U-Turn is an education program for youths under the age of 21 who have, for the first time, been arrested for alcohol or other drug abuse-related offenses, including driving while intoxicated.

“Once U-Turn can show, through its evaluation, that it is accomplishing what it set out to do, and that it’s cutting down on repeat offenses, then this is a program we could suggest to other providers looking to implement Alcohol Awareness Programs,” Zoni says.

Wisconsin: Addressing Prevention Priorities

Over the past seven years, Wisconsin has sent nine programs through Service to Science.  According to Lou Oppor, acting section chief for the Substance Abuse Services Section of the Bureau of Prevention Treatment and Recovery, “Service to Science has been tremendously helpful to these programs. Staff of local agencies do not always understand how to evaluate their programs. Service to Science provides critical training on evaluation methods . . . People who develop these efforts have good hearts but they don’t understand that there has to be some evidence behind it. It has to work. So they need to think carefully about how they’re going to evaluate what they’re doing.” 

Service to Science has also played a key role in helping Wisconsin meet its prevention priorities, which are focused on changing attitudes toward underage drinking and adult binge drinking. Oppor explains: “If your ultimate goal is to change a community’s culture around alcohol use, you have to know whether or not there is a readiness to change. And key to increasing readiness is increasing awareness of the problem.” So Wisconsin has looked to Service to Science to strengthen the evaluation capacity of programs designed to increase public awareness of alcohol-related problems.

One such program, Marshfield C.A.R.E.S. (Community Alcohol Resources for Establishments and Servers) was accepted into the 2012 Service to Science academy. The program enlists the cooperation of local restaurants and bars to reduce underage drinking by teaching employees responsible beverage-serving practices.

“The town of Marshfield has 67 establishments with liquor licenses. The local tavern league and substance abuse prevention workers had historically been at opposing ends of alcohol policy,” Oppor says. The coalition that developed Marshfield C.A.R.E.S. was able to shift the paradigm: Rather than “punishing” irresponsible establishments, it chose to “reward” responsible ones and earn their support for the program.

“It’s that kind of creativity on the community level that Service to Science ultimately helps us support,” Oppor says.

And finding programs to nominate? “Never a problem,” Oppor insists. Wisconsin’s Bureau of Prevention Treatment and Recovery supports the Alliance for Wisconsin Youth, a network of 120 community coalitions interested in both promoting youth development as well as substance abuse prevention services. Oppor describes the alliance as the “seed bed” or “breeding ground” for new programs. “The coalitions typically have great ideas that they’re trying to promote locally. And they have broad representation from the community. So we generally don’t have a problem getting recommendations. I send out an email and the nominations come in. In fact, it’s almost like the programs find me!” 


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