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Credit: chriszak

A new report details “what we already know works” and how to support those practices and policies.

This weekend, thousands will gather at the National Mall in Washington, DC to demand that addiction be made a national priority. It’s an unprecedented event, part of a movement fueled by grief, hope, frustration, and creativity. A new report from the Center for High Impact Philanthropy could add an important ingredient to this movement: clear talking points for exactly what it looks like to face addiction. 

As I paged through Lifting the Burden of Addiction: Philanthropic opportunities to address substance use disorders in the United States, I keep thinking, This is so great because not only does it tell people with deep pockets where to put their money, it helps regular people articulate what can and should be done.

Here’s a major theme:

“This is an area that in many ways is ripe with low-hanging fruit. While there’s certainly room for research and innovation, there’s also enormous opportunity in simply connecting SUD [substance use disorder] patients with what we already know works, and in adjusting policies to align with the knowledge we already have.” 

The report goes on to detail “what we already know works” and how to support those practices and policies. And what’s nice is that it offers a menu of options. Whether you’re an individual or a philanthropic organization who thinks it’s time to face addiction, you can probably find something in this guide that makes sense to you.

In it, action steps are divided into four main strategies:

This Chart from the Report

This chart is a gem. It extols the value of harm reduction (“Save lives and reduce SUD-related homelessness right now”), basic research (“Fund innovation to improve prevention and treatment”), and improving treatment access and quality (“Improve access to evidence-based treatment”). It points the reader toward organizations and initiatives who are actually doing this work (including IRETA in the area of screening, prevention, and early intervention). It illustrates a list of research-supported ways to start to face addiction.

As Maia Szalvitz points out, Unite to Face Addiction has taken pains to be inclusive: methadone advocates, legalizers, 12-steppers, and a whole host of others will find common ground at the rally on Sunday. But eventually, Unite to Face Addiction will have to take a stand on specific issues, many of which are likely to be contentious.

This report can help generate a productive, practical conversation about facing addiction. It reminds us that although legalization and decriminalization are important issues, they’re not the only ones worth discussing.

Lay people can understand this report. Importantly, so can policymakers. And we certainly hope it gets philanthropists more engaged with and optimistic about addressing addiction.

Two years ago, the Hilton Foundation took the plunge by launching a new initiative that now funds an array of interesting programs designed to prevent and address youth substance use. We’d love to see other foundations follow their lead.