Commissioner’s message: The power of prevention
Dear DHSS colleagues and news subscribers,
This newsletter edition contains several articles about long-term, community-based prevention work that spans across DHSS divisions and programs. We don’t intentionally focus our newsletters around certain themes but this one came together naturally because it’s work we regularly engage in and are excited about here at DHSS.
I’m proud of our staff for prioritizing and moving forward with this kind of prevention work that helps build resiliency in Alaskans and strengthens communities. It’s easy to lose sight of the importance of this work during times of fiscal uncertainty or when priorities shift, but in fact, prevention efforts become even more essential when resources are scarce. As we know, but sometimes forget, prevention saves money and lives.
Through my volunteer board involvement with MyHouse, a group that works with homeless youth, I’ve become personally familiar with the power of prevention efforts and how they can transform lives. On an international level, Iceland’s highly-regarded prevention model helped transform their youth culture from one of widespread substance misuse to one with a new focus on substance-free pursuits that has helped both young people and families become healthier and more connected with each other. In 1998, the percentage of 15- and 16-year-olds who had been drunk in the previous month was as high as 42%; by 2016, that number was down to 5%. Rates of marijuana and tobacco use have also dropped sharply over the past two decades.
How did Iceland achieve such amazing success? Iceland succeeded through common sense approaches, combined with research, evidence-based practices, community buy-in and thoughtful planning and perseverance. Alaska differs in important ways from Iceland, of course, but we still have much to learn from their experience. No matter what topic we’re trying to address – mental health, healthy habits, suicide, substance misuse or emergency planning – prevention work is worth our continued investment.
Many thanks to everyone at DHSS and at the local levels within communities across Alaska who take on and continue this type of work.