May 12 marks the beginning of National Prevention Week — the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) annual health observance dedicated to increasing public awareness of, and action around, mental and/or substance use disorders. Each year, communities and organizations nationwide come together to raise awareness about the importance of substance use prevention and positive mental health.
The purpose of National Prevention Week is three-fold:
1. Involve communities in raising awareness of substance use and mental health issues and in implementing prevention strategies, and showcasing effectiveness of evidence-based prevention programs;
2. Foster partnerships and collaborations with federal agencies and national organizations dedicated to improving public health; and
3. Promote and disseminate quality substance use prevention and mental health promotion resources and publications.
There are daily themes throughout the week, ranging from prevention of underage drinking and alcohol misuse to prevention of suicide. SAMHSA has a host of free and downloadable materials, planning toolkits, media toolkits, event guides and other resources available here. SAMHSA is also facilitating a #PreventionChampion challenge on social media.
Prevention in Out-of-School Time
National Prevention Week occurs annually during the third week of May for a very important reason — it is nearing the summer break, a high-risk time when youth are more likely to engage in substance misuse. According to SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), youth most often try substances for the first time during June or July. As communities nationwide seek to instill a culture of prevention during summer — when most youth aren’t in school — park and recreation agencies are an obvious solution. With millions of youth attending summer programs at their local park and recreation agency and/or simply utilizing the safe and accessible facilities, sports and play spaces, and open park space, parks and recreation are uniquely well-positioned to champion the goals of National Prevention Week.
Additionally, NRPA has partnered with the Afterschool Alliance and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to provide technical assistance and professional development opportunities surrounding prevention efforts to out-of-school time professionals. For more information, click here.
NRPA’s Substance Misuse Community of Practice
In support of substance use disorder awareness and prevention, NRPA has recently launched the Substance Misuse Community of Practice (CoP) — a place where park and recreation and out-of-school time (OST) professionals can connect and discuss challenges surrounding substance use disorder and its impact on park grounds and communities.
Members of each group will work together to create a network of support focused on assessing, exploring and establishing partnerships in their communities to leverage community assets that will help them overcome the various challenges faced when addressing substance misuse in parks. Over a period of one year (April 2019 – April 2020), NRPA, a group of agencies and occasional guest speakers will meet virtually to help each agency build internal and external capacity to sustain substance abuse prevention efforts. This is an opportunity for park and recreation professionals to work collaboratively with other agencies across the country to identify sustainable solutions to the variety of challenges faced by local park and recreation agencies in America.
Within the CoP, a “prevention” cohort will focus on substance misuse risk factors, recognizing and responding to substance misuse, OST policies and procedures and programming efforts, community-wide prevention efforts, and related professional development/training opportunities. Additionally, an “operations” cohort will concentrate more on park safety and maintenance, to include best practices for handling substance misuse, staff safety, needle and syringe clean up, referral systems for substance misusers, and developing community-wide efforts and public health partnerships.
For more information, contact NRPA Program Specialist Lauren Kiefert.
Allison Colman is NRPA’s Director of Health.
Cassie Pais is NRPA’s Development Officer.
Lauren Kiefert is an NRPA Program Specialist.