Penn State researcher Stephanie Bradley, director of the Evidence-Based Prevention & Intervention Support Center (EPISCenter), was one of five experts on a panel who recently briefed Congress on the rising opioid epidemic and efforts to combat the problem through evidence-based prevention programs and public health approaches.
The congressional briefing highlighted a report from Trust for America’s Health and the Well Being Trust, “Pain in the Nation: The Drug, Alcohol and Suicide Epidemics and the Need for a National Resilience Strategy.” According to the report, deaths from drugs, alcohol and suicide accounted for one million deaths from 2006 to 2015. With the rapid rise of heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil use, the report predicted death rates could double to two million by 2025.
The report also found that there were disproportionately large increases in drug deaths among racial and ethnic minority groups, particularly among black Americans, who experienced an increase of 39 percent in drug deaths between 2015 and 2016. Additionally, Latinos saw drug death rates increase 24 percent, while the rate for whites increased 19 percent during those same years.
The report calls for a national resilience strategy that takes a comprehensive approach focusing on prevention, early identification of issues, and effective treatment, which is also the approach advocated by the EPISCenter.
The center’s expertise includes translating high-quality research to ensure communities and policymakers have access to the most recent and rigorous research around what works in preventing youth substance use and other problem behaviors. Bradley’s presentation focused on prevention science, effective upstream prevention programs, and the need for prevention infrastructure at federal, state and local levels.
“While the congressional briefing focused on deaths of despair, I explained that substantial research has identified upstream risk factors in early childhood and adolescence that increase risk for multiple problem outcomes, including but not limited to substance use and depression,” Bradley explained. “Proven, effective prevention strategies target early risk indicators, such as family conflict, low attachment to school, perceived norms about antisocial behaviors, and coping skills. When risk-focused strategies are used we are able to address a wider array of possible outcomes for youth and families. This means we have the opportunity to prevent a number of problems from occurring, many of which may not be on our radar today but could be issues in a few years.”
Bradley says that while the opioid crisis is drawing attention and resources, it is also allowing the EPISCenter opportunities to highlight the role that early prevention can play in stemming the epidemic. “We’ve worked previously with Trust for America’s Health and Well Being on legislation recommendations for state and local prevention infrastructure, and members of the center regularly meet with policymakers to discuss upstream prevention programs and practices that are effective at preventing all types of problem behaviors, including the misuse of prescription opioids.”
The EPISCenter is also partnering with University of Pittsburgh’s PA Heroin Overdose Prevention Technical Assistance Center to support their work on prevention strategies.
Additionally, Bradley served as a member of Opioid Prevention Subcommittee of the Governor’s Advisory Board for Health, to which she and subcommittee member Alice Yoder of Lancaster General Health submitted a white paper on upstream prevention strategies. This white paper was recently shared with the PA Opioid Command Center for consideration.
Bradley is also a member of the Penn State Advisory Board for Combating the Opioid Epidemic, and is often called to serve on panels, town halls and trainings on this issue. Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute is providing leadership for this advisory board, which includes experts from 15 interdisciplinary research centers and institutes, representing seven colleges and four campuses, as well as several offices.
The EPISCenter represents a collaborative partnership between the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD), and Penn State’s Prevention Research Center and College of Health and Human Development. The EPISCenter is funded by PCCD, the Department of Human Services, and the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.