Like many other states in New England, Massachusetts has experienced a sharp rise in the number of deaths and hospitalizations due to opioid overdoses over the past decade. And while state legislators continue to support treatment and recovery services to address the crisis, they are also reaching out to experts who focus on another strategy—promoting behavior health and preventing substance use and misuse.
EDC’s Jim Vetter is serving on a new statewide commission that will be critical to Massachusetts’ prevention efforts. Established by the State Legislature in 2016, the Special Legislative Commission on Behavioral Health Promotion and Upstream Prevention in Massachusetts will examine what is working in behavioral health promotion and prevention across the state and beyond and will identify achievable goals for reducing behavioral health disorders in the Commonwealth. The group will also make recommendations on how promotion and prevention programs can be better funded. Vetter, who is a member of the Social-Emotional Learning Alliance for Massachusetts, was sworn in by Governor Charlie Baker on March 29.
“To truly address issues such as the current opioid crisis, we need to focus on promoting behavioral health and preventing disorders before they escalate—before they impact people’s lives,” says Vetter, who has helped communities across the United States and abroad to promote social and emotional health and well-being. “We can create the conditions and address the risk and protective factors that affect peoples’ behavior long before they need recovery and treatment services.”
Research has shown that behavioral health promotion and prevention approaches are cost effective and can lead to long-term savings. Promotion and prevention activities may include school-based social and emotional learning programs, early intervention services for those at elevated risk, and community-wide efforts to change social norms.
Vetter says that while Massachusetts has been a leader in developing and implementing behavioral health promotion and prevention approaches, cuts in federal funding have left many communities with inadequate budgets for promotion and prevention. He believes the commission will help make the case that investing in prevention can save both lives and money.
“Unaddressed behavioral health disorders can have a devastating effect on individuals, families, and communities,” says Vetter. “By starting much earlier with a promotion and prevention approach, we have a great opportunity to make a difference.”