Driving by “Methadone Mile” as the stretch has been called near our South End office, is a daily reminder of the ravages of drug addiction and substance misuse on people, families, and communities. Constant news stories of lives lost, lives ruined and the high cost to come back from the brink through rehabilitation and treatment paint a bleak picture. Addiction, particularly of opioids has become a rare bipartisan focus and methods to fund and design treatments that work are actively being sought out.
Treatment for addiction is intensive, highly specialized and costly. The National Institute of Health estimated the overall health costs related to just opioid misuse to be $78.5 billion. While it is necessary for our communities to continue to grapple with the challenges of how to support people in the throes of addiction, we also need to focus on early intervention.
Opioid Epidemic: Early intervention is where to start
Early Intervention matters because it’s significantly more effective, efficient and inexpensive to implement evidenced-based prevention interventions than to deal with the direct results of misuse and addiction. The other great benefit of early intervention programs is that they target a broad set of factors and variables that are also directly linked to improved school performance, violence reduction, and improved social skills. The Washington State Institute for Public Policy in 2016 analyzed prevention programs and found that many of them have an increased dollar benefit for every dollar spent. For example, for every dollar spent on Life Skills training groups, there is an estimated $17.25 benefit!
The MA Bureau of Substance Addiction Services has been funding trainings in this intervention throughout the state and clearly looking at the returns on this modest investment. The MA Department of Public Health and the Boston Public Health Commission understand that early intervention matters and the state of Massachusetts continue to be forward thinking in both treatment and prevention. We must make sure that comprehensive early intervention programs continue to get focus and funding.
At Wediko, our early intervention programs adopt and adapt evidenced-based interventions that are targeting the development and mastery of skills that are directly linked as offsetting factors to risk for future substance misuse and addiction. With funding from the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services, Wediko provides one of the few early intervention programs targeting elementary aged students to reduce future substance misuse and violence prevention. Building on 80 years of implementing programs that focus on the mastery of skills as a pathway to restoring hope and future success, we know that early intervention approaches have to take a comprehensive holistic view of the child.
Programs that support children in all domains of their life, home, school, and community are going to have a greater lasting impact. Effective early intervention isn’t just a simple presentation on the dangers of drug use and a hope that children remember that, effective early intervention is building resilience, grit and building skills to think through choices and consequences. Early Intervention done well is future-oriented and will have far a reaching positive impact. Early Intervention matters but we must be careful to not just pay lip service to it, plug in some programs here and there and check the box. This is too important, lives are at stake and great cost to our society looms. Early Intervention matters and investing in comprehensive prevention programs is worth our investment.
By Michael Clontz, LICSW, Wediko Children Services Interim Executive Director & Director, Boston Programs