Special to the Philanthropy Journal
By Gina Clark
Throughout our history, philanthropic organizations have played a critical role in addressing national health challenges at the local level. Their regional insights and knowledge, as well as relationships with community stakeholders, are instrumental in creating and implementing targeted programs that ultimately lead to change and sustained impact. This paradigm is now true for the current opioid epidemic, too.
Today, the American opioid epidemic has touched innumerable communities with 11.4 million people recorded as having misused prescription opioids.1 In fact, a recent study found that more than fifty percent of the public has a personal connection to prescription painkiller abuse. Respondents – across multiple socioeconomic and demographic factors – reported that they or someone they know has abused or suffered from addiction.2
The socio-economic, geographic and psychographic contributors to this issue are as diverse as the millions of people it is affecting. It is clear the response to the crisis must be just as multi-layered, personal and scalable, which is where collaboration becomes essential. There needs to be a clear and grounded understanding of the people at risk and the factors affecting these risk levels that are specific to them as individuals. We have to begin at the community-level with nonprofits that have identified the people most in need of resources and support and, from there, build strong partnership networks that allow us to maximize resources and create the greatest change.
That is why organizations are making the strategic decision to partner with like-minded, knowledgeable nonprofits to share resources and positively impact communities across the U.S. For example, the AmerisourceBergen Foundation, a not-for-profit grant-making organization dedicated to supporting health-related causes, has collaborated with locally embedded nonprofits to tackle specific facets of opioid misuse and its effects – like those impacting youth and families.
Most recently, the AmerisourceBergen Foundation partnered with The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), Afterschool Alliance, and Alliance for a Healthier Generation to support bespoke programming that is tailored for adolescents in communities throughout the country, focusing on after-school program providers. Currently, there are more than 10.2 million children attending an out-of-school time (OST) program every day, and research shows that teens who participate in activities between the hours of 3:00 – 7:00 p.m. have a higher probability of abstaining from drugs and alcohol. Studies also reflect that teens who are supervised or involved in structured activities during after school hours are less likely to engage in abusing drugs and alcohol than youth who are unsupervised during those hours.3 It is clear this is a critical window of time when kids and young adults can be engaged in a way that discourages opioid misuse and abuse.
To capitalize on this powerful insight, our organizations are working together to create and make available a suite of professional development training resources to equip out-of-school time providers with the skills and knowledge to reduce risk factors, boost protective influences, and prevent opioid misuse among youth. This support includes a quarterly online learning series, designed for after-school program administrators and staff, and focuses on the prevention and identification of opioid misuse as well as reduction of risk factors.
In communities struggling with opioid misuse, afterschool and summer learning programs play a critical role in increasing resilience among young people and supporting positive youth development. By equipping program staff with the resources needed to identify the individuals at greatest risk for opioid misuse, we are better positioning community leaders to help children impacted by the epidemic. Staff are also better prepared to connect with students and help them build the knowledge, confidence, and tools to cope with the impact of addiction.
It is the combination of a macro-vision with micro-community resourcing and collaboration that is going to help us face our most pressing challenges. As demonstrated by the partnership between the AmerisourceBergen Foundation and The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), collective impact can be achieved when active partners share their skills to reach a common goal. We encourage all organizations to think creatively about what complementary, strategic partners might exist, and then, to go forth, seek them out and bring forward meaningful change. Our commitment is to do the same.
1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017). The National Survey on Drug Use and Health: 2017. Retrieved July 16, 2019, from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/nsduh-ppt-09-2018.pdf.
2. Kaiser Family Foundation. (2015). Kaiser Health Tracking Poll: November 2015. Retrieved July 16, 2019, from http://kff.org/health-reform/poll-finding/kaiser-health-tracking-poll-november-2015/.
3. After School Alliance, MetLife Foundation. (2014). Keeping Kids Safe and Supported in the Hours After School: May 2014. Retrieved August 8, 2019, from http://afterschoolalliance.org/documents/issue_briefs/issue_KeepingKidsSafe_65.pdf.