‘It’s a Wonderful Life’: Building Connections to Address Substance Misuse

February 5th, 2016 | Viewpoint


I recently came across this broadcast on New Hampshire’s WMUR about a young woman whose life would have taken a much different path if it was not for a Naloxone kit, a state-distributed package containing a drug to block the effects of opioids. The woman had overdosed, but her friends used the Naloxone kit recently acquired through a public distribution event—which probably saved her life.

For me, this story illustrated many results from lessons learned through the years of my time in the JSI New Hampshire office. Foremost was the positive outcome for this one person who received a second chance thanks to the work of our colleagues in state and local public health and emergency response. On another level, I saw important connections to our work at JSI, if only in ways that are behind the scenes. In addition to the specific facts and circumstances, here are some of the other things I took away from this story.  

  • I saw a product of the last 15 years of our work to stand up and improved, systems-based infrastructure for local public health in New Hampshire. JSI was there when the Lakes Region Partnership for Public Health (central to this story) was just an idea. We facilitated their initial formation meetings and wrote their founding documents. The Partnership for Public Health continues to be a great NH public health success story, and is one of our strongest partners to this day.
  • I saw a real and effective connection between public health and the emergency response community. Many of my JSI/NH colleagues have worked persistently on public health emergency planning and partnership-building for many years. Consequently, it is now natural for these sectors to work together regularly and effectively across our state on efforts such as preventing the consequences of substance misuse.
  • Similarly, I saw a strong connection between substance misuse prevention and the emergency response, public health, and health care delivery systems, all sectors that we support through our technical assistance and training. Indeed, several of the speakers in this story are substance misuse prevention professionals employed directly by a local public health agency. That configuration is in part due to several years of working with the NH Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Service and the Division of Public Health Services to formally knit these parallel systems together through the NH Public Health Network.
  • I also saw an effective working relationship between our superb partners at the NH state health department and a local public health community. This work would not have been possible, outside of a few NH cities, when our work to build a stronger local public health infrastructure began years ago.
  • I saw recognition that substance misuse is a critical public health priority, a level of awareness that our staff have contributed to with great expertise and dedication through our Center for Excellence in Substance Misuse Prevention and Treatment.
  • Most directly, I saw the fruits of JSI’s participation on the state Naloxone Taskforce that developed the plan for statewide kit distribution, as well as our Anyone. Anytime, a statewide communication campaign that raises awareness about the epidemic of opioid misuse.

Perhaps I have made too many ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ connections between this story and our work at JSI. It must also be said that none of these observations are meant in any way to draw undue credit or diminish the actions of our many excellent colleagues who support the health and safety of NH residents every day through their direct service. Nevertheless, I can’t help but see the connections to our work over time. I encourage all of you to reflect from time to time on the arc of your own work, because—whether your work is behind the scenes or is more visible—every bit of it is making a difference in more ways than you may ever know.

Written by Jonathan Stewart

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