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Tips on How to Conduct a Community Assessment on Rx Abuse Issues

A community assessment is a vital tool that coalitions use to understand and articulate the substance abuse problems, risk factors and local conditions in their communities. By completing a community assessment, prevention and intervention strategies directly correlate with the problem and desired outcomes. Typically, specific root conditions bubble up to the top, enabling coalitions to

    1. Prioritize what needs to be tackled first.
    2. Discover local patterns that lead to local solutions.
    3. More effectively develop and implement logic models that yield desired outcomes.
    4. Craft reasonable and logical evaluation criteria, ensuring that results will be measurable.

Community assessments are designed to help coalitions learn as much as they can about a problem before they craft community-specific interventions.  They’re more than just about collecting data. The assessment must describe a community’s environments in which drug use does and does not occur. To achieve that goal, a community assessment is comprised of five elements—the community description; community history; needs assessment; resource assessment; and problem statement.

For the purposes of this toolkit, we will focus on the needs assessment portion of the assessment which analyzes community-level risk factors and local conditions related to Rx medicine abuse.

Chances are good that many coalition partner organizations already have access to the data that will inform your needs assessment. When you’re collecting additional data, the goal is to find specific information that can help you tell a complete story about the Rx abuse challenges in your community. Review this list of potential data measures your coalition could explore.

Rx Abuse Local Data Measures

WHO
  • Age of initial use
  • Males/females
WHAT
  • Drugs of abuse
  • Current abuse rates
WHEN
  • Times of year
    • pre- or post-exams
    • Spring or summer break
  • Time of day
    • After school
    • At night
    • On weekends
WHERE
  • Home
  • Parks
  • School parking lots
  • Dorm rooms
  • Parties
HOW
  • Doctors and clinics
  • Friends and family members
  • Online drug stores
COMMUNITY NORMS 
  • Perceptions of harm
  • Beliefs about medicine use (e.g., “pill for every ill”)
CRIMINAL JUSTICE
  • Rx abuse-related arrests
  • Incident reports resulting from police calls for service
HARM
  • Rx abuse-related
    • Hospital/ER visits
    • Deaths
    • Traffic fatalities
    • Referral to treatment
    • Treatment data

Your local data measures should include qualitative data and quantitative data. Quantitative data gives you the numbers and qualitative data tells you the story behind them. These data collection methods work together to form a more complete picture of your community.

According to CADCA’s National Coalition Institute (CADCA Institute), the best ways to obtain quantitative data is through student and partner surveys and archival survey data from hospitals, health and police departments and the school system. Qualitative data is acquired through community forums or town hall meetings, focus groups, listening sessions and environmental scans.

Refer to the CADCA Institute’s Assessment Primer for guidance on developing a community assessment