Substance abuse is one of our nation's most pressing health problems, responsible for one in 14 hospital admissions and half a million preventable deaths annually, not to mention billions of dollars in health care costs.
Over the past 14 years, researchers funded by the Substance Abuse Policy Research Program (SAPRP) identified evidence-based policies that effectively reduce substance abuse. We know that increasing the cost of and decreasing the availability of alcohol reduces its consumption, particularly among young people. We know that excessive incarceration of substance abusers has negative effects on public health by destabilizing communities and exacerbating HIV rates. We know that even though smoking rates have declined in the past decade, tobacco use and tobacco-related deaths are most prevalent among the poorest and least educated Americans.
We also know that primary care and other medical services must be key components of substance abuse treatment, just as they are for chronic disease management. And it’s crucial for insurers to address the cyclical nature of addiction by covering the necessary levels of care to avoid paying for repeated episodes of treatment.
However, there is much that researchers and policy-makers still don’t know about preventing and treating substance abuse. SAPRP recently released research roadmaps for tobacco, drug and alcohol abuse and treatment to identify proven policies and highlight the major outstanding questions that must be explored during the next five years.
Unanswered questions highlighted in the reports include:
- What is the impact of various levels of tax/price increases on tobacco and alcohol use?
- What effects do drug courts, which offer treatment instead of prison, have on substance use, psychological health and employment? and,
- What systems and policies contribute to health care disparities and what can help close the gap between the number of people who need treatment for substance abuse problems and those who actually receive it?
These research roadmaps will be important to policy-makers, advocacy groups and federal agencies like the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, and the Department of Justice.
For the past 14 years, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has funded SAPRP as part of a comprehensive set of strategies to reduce the personal, social and economic harm caused by tobacco, alcohol and other drugs.