October was first declared National Substance Abuse Prevention Month in 2011, when a presidential proclamation called on “all Americans to engage in appropriate programs and activities to promote comprehensive substance abuse prevention efforts within their communities.” OJJDP continues to respond to that call to action a decade later, as President Biden designates October 2021 National Youth Substance Use Prevention Month.
OJJDP funding now focuses on programs for youth impacted by opioid misuse. Opioid-involved overdose deaths reached 49,860 in 2019, totaling 70.6 percent of all drug overdose deaths that year, while overdoses involving heroin and other illicit opioids resulted in 3,391 deaths among people ages 15–24. OJJDP’s work is devoted to saving lives; the Office funds treatment and recovery programs, and mentoring programs that give youth role models who support and encourage them. From fiscal years (FYs) 2018 to 2020, the Office awarded almost $58 million to communities, state agencies, and providers for the Opioid Affected Youth Initiative and the Mentoring for Youth Impacted by Opioids and Drug Addiction program. The Office estimates it will award almost $25 million to those programs in FY 2021.
The Opioid Affected Youth Initiative funds integrated services that support youth and families through treatment and recovery, and helps reduce youth involvement in the juvenile justice and foster care systems. Among the grantees is the Tennessee Alliance for Drug Endangered Children, whose advisory board includes representatives from community health councils and county substance abuse prevention coalitions, and from the child welfare, juvenile court, and higher education systems.
“Having those partnerships and relationships already in place is a tremendous help,” said Tabatha Curtis, statewide coordinator for the project. Drug Endangered Children Response Teams in six counties are housed within existing substance abuse prevention coalitions, for example, allowing the teams to tap into coalition resources such as peer recovery and regional opioid prevention specialists.
The Mentoring for Youth Impacted by Opioids and Drug Addiction program supports both youth who use or are at risk of using substances and those with family members who misuse drugs. Grantees must have demonstrated partnerships with substance abuse treatment agencies. An FY 2018 grant to the National Recreation and Park Association supports the Park and Recreation Mentorship for Rural Youth Impacted by Opioids in Central Appalachia program.
To reach park and recreation agencies in communities with the greatest need, the National Recreation and Park Association conducted a detailed needs assessment examining key variables related to the opioid epidemic. Focus groups then helped the local and recreation agencies to develop a framework for designing individualized mentoring programs that address youth interests and community needs.
To address inequities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Recreation and Park Association is using its FY 2020 award in rural Appalachia and rural New England to prioritize services for youth of color, indigenous youth, those who have suffered adverse childhood experiences, and youth from low-income families.
OJJDP’s new Opioid Affected Youth Initiative website includes information about FY 2018 and 2019 project sites and grantee outcomes. Read OJJDP’s Supporting Youth and Families Impacted by Opioid Abuse In Focus fact sheet and visit the Model Programs Guide to learn more about substance abuse prevention programs.
A review by OJJDP’s National Mentoring Resource Center assesses the effectiveness of youth mentoring in preventing or reducing substance use. The center also provides no-cost specialized technical assistance to mentoring programs pursuing strategies for youth impacted by substance use.