November Newsletter
Epidemiology, the Foundation that Supports Prevention
Partnering with an Epidemiologist to Enhance Your Prevention Efforts
Iris E. Smith, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Epidemiology is the study of the frequency, distribution, and determinants of health outcomes in order to identify, prevent, control or treat health outcomes in specific populations. [1] Epidemiologists provide data to support policy development, strategy selection and the identification of trends and emerging issues related to substance use. Epidemiologists typically have a wide range of skills related to the collection, analysis, and interpretation of research data. They play an important role in helping communities collect and utilize data to assess community needs and capacity as well as plan, implement and evaluate prevention strategies. The table below summarizes some ways that an epidemiologist, and data, can be helpful at each stage of the Strategic Prevention Framework.
SPF Step: Assessment
Information Needs ·         
  • What is the community’s perception of the scope, risk factors and protective factors that contribute to substance misuse in their community?
  • What data sources are most useful and valid in determining the scope and severity of the problem?
  • Are there other data sources that could provide additional information?
How the Epidemiologist Can Help
  • Assess the validity and usefulness of existing data.
  • Explore additional data sources that might help to fill data gaps.
  • Work with you to develop strategies for collecting additional data if needed.
  • Help to align local, state, and national data from multiple levels (individual, family, community and policy) to provide a comprehensive picture of the community at all levels of the socio-ecological model.

SPF Step: Capacity
Information Needs
  • What is the community’s level of readiness to engage in prevention activities?
  • What prevention resources exist within the community?
  • What is needed to build capacity?
How the Epidemiologist Can Help
  • Help to devise strategies and design instruments to collect information on community perceptions and capacity.

SPF Step: Planning
Information Needs
  • What is the geographic distribution of the problem?
  • Are there disparities among sub-populations or communities?
  • How does local data compare to state and national data?
How the Epidemiologist Can Help
  • Use data to identify disparities in scope, severity or consequences related to substance misuse within the community.

SPF Step: Implementation
Information Needs
  •  What prevention strategies are most likely to be effective for this community?
  • How will we know that prevention strategies are being implemented as planned (fidelity)?
  • Are we making progress toward our prevention goal?
How the Epidemiologist Can Help
  • Provide summaries of evaluation studies of effective programs.
  • Help to develop strategies for monitoring progress and identify opportunities of improvement.

SPF Step: Evaluation
Information Needs
  • Are the selected prevention strategies resulting in a decrease in drug use and associated consequences?
How the Epidemiologist Can Help
  • Work with the evaluators to identify and measure outcomes.

SPF Step: Cultural Competency
information Needs
  • Are strategies culturally appropriate?
How the Epidemiologist Can Help
  • Develop strategies and tools for assessing the cultural appropriateness of prevention strategies.
  • Conduct reviews of the research literature to identify programs that have been found to be effective with specific population groups.

SPF Step: Sustainability
Information Needs
  • What elements of the strategies implemented are most critical to the program’s success?
How the Epidemiologist Can Help
  • The epidemiologist can work with the evaluator to identify the most impactful elements of the overall prevention strategy.
Selecting an Epidemiologist

As mentioned earlier, epidemiology involves a wide range of skills. When selecting an individual to serve in this role you may want to consider the following:

  • Formal training and/or experience in a similar role.
  • Demonstrated skill in both quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis.
  • Knowledge of substance misuse prevention research.
  • Familiarity with publicly available data sets related to substance misuse and related consequences.
  • Interpersonal and communication skills- including experience communicating research findings to non-research community audiences.

Preparing for the Initial Meeting
 Prevention work requires an active and ongoing partnership between the prevention provider and the epidemiologist. This relationship is most effective when there is shared understanding of the purpose, goals and objectives of the prevention initiative and of the epidemiologist’s role. In preparation for the initial meeting, it may be helpful to begin to think about some of the following questions:

  • What information do you already have about use, risk factors and resources in your community?
  • What data sources have you used?
  • How was it collected?
  • Does the data reflect current conditions in the community?
  • What additional questions do you have about use, risk factors and resources in your community (data gaps)?
  • What data is most critical at this time (i.e. priorities)?
  • What would be the most efficient and effective way to communicate (for example, frequency, modality, etc.)
  • How will the data be disseminated once it becomes available (i.e. who are the potential audiences for the information)?
  • What are the reporting deadlines that will require epidemiologic input?
The epidemiologist is an important member of your prevention team. They contribute highly specialized expertise to ensure that your prevention strategies effectively address the needs and characteristics of your community. In addition, they can provide data on emerging issues and national trends which can be helpful in planning for sustainability.

[1] Adapted from Last (2001) A Dictionary of Epidemiology 4 th Edition.
Iris E. Smith, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Iris Smith is Associate Professor Emeritus of Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health where she has taught graduate courses in Program Evaluation, Substance Abuse, Social Determinants of Health, and the Mental Health Capstone course. In addition to teaching Iris also served as principal or co-investigator for numerous studies on the prenatal effects of alcohol and other drugs and treatment and interventions with substance abusing women, including a treatment demonstration grant for pregnant and parenting addicted women and their children (1979-1999). From 2004-2011 she was Co-investigator for the Emory Prevention Research Center and from 2007 to 2010 she served as the lead evaluator for the Atlanta Clinical Translational Science Institute.
Mid-America PTTC
The Mid-America Prevention Technology Transfer Center (Mid-America PTTC) is designed to serve as a prevention catalyst, empowering individuals and fostering partnerships to promote safe, healthy, and drug-free communities across Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas. Our services are evidence-based, culturally competent, and locally focused. We provide intensive technical assistance to support organizations' and systems' efforts to implement evidence-based prevention strategies. The Mid-America PTTC also forms partnerships with local and regional stakeholders to ensure that the training needs of the region are identified and met.

The Mid-America PTTC goals are to:
  • Accelerate the adoption and implementation of evidence-based and promising substance misuse prevention strategies.
  • Heighten the awareness, knowledge, and skills of the workforce that addresses substance misuse prevention.
  • Foster regional and national alliances among culturally diverse practitioners, researchers, policymakers, funders, and the local communities.

To learn more about our services:  Mid-America PTTC
Great Resources on Epidemiology
The Data Dive: Episode 1 | Prevention Technology...

This episode talks about using data prioritization to focus substance misuse prevention efforts more effectively and efficiently. Using recent prioritization work in New Jersey as an example, this podcast focuses on five key steps of a...

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myDatabilities | your personal data literacy assessment

This assessment measures your level of data literacy across three key dimensions; reading, writing and comprehension using the Databilities® competency framework.

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Becoming a Data-Informed Organization: How to Assess...

What is a data-informed organization? At its most basic, it's one that collects and tracks information about constituents. The ideal is to incorporate data as part of the culture so that it becomes second-nature to collect and act on it. The...

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Population-Specific Data Sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Professional Gateway
This site provides a listing of CDC data and resources for researchers and health professionals such as data and statistics by topic, interactive database tools, surveillance systems and tracking networks.

National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)
This website provides detailed instruction on how to extract data on specific population groups from NSDUH. The data provides estimates of substance use and mental illness at the national, state, and sub-state levels. NSDUH data also help to identify the extent of substance use and mental illness among different sub-groups, estimate trends over time, and determine the need for treatment services.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Professional Gateway, Tribal Data, Information and Resources 
CDC’s Office of Minority Health and Health Equity provides information about minority populations within the United States, including American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) populations.

Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute at Washington University (ADAI)
A multidisciplinary research center on alcohol and drug use. Although the ADAI that primarily focuses on data/research from the state of Washington and the west coast, they also disseminate research from a wide variety of sources.
The Williams Institute – UCLA School of Law
The Williams Institute is dedicated to conducting rigorous, independent research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy. A think tank at UCLA Law, the Williams Institute produces high-quality research with real-world relevance and disseminates it to judges, legislators, policymakers, media and the public.
Movement Advancement Project (MAP)- LGBT Populations Map
This map shows the estimated raw number of LGBT adults living in each state. We applied the estimated percentage of each state's adult population that identifies as LGBT (using a 2018 analysis of Gallup data by The Williams Institute ) to each state's total adult population (using 2018 Census Bureau estimates ).
The Fenway Institute – Center for Population Research in LGBT Health
The Center for Population Research in LGBT Health supports and stimulates research to fill critical knowledge gaps related to the health of sexual and gender minorities, strengthening the foundation for culturally competent treatment and behavior change models.
Tools for Telling a Statistical Story

Using a story to communicate data in your community can be an effective tool. There are two parts to telling an effective story, the first part is the speaker describing the tale out loud to an audience, and the second part is the visuals or words that help enhance the story. Below are some tools you can use to create visuals that will help you tell a more effective, memorable data story.
These ideas can be used in PowerPoint presentations, policy developing information sheets, infographics, social media or whatever may meet your needs. How can you use one of these tools to communicate your prevention story in the near future?
For more ideas on storytelling, check out the article, The Neuroscience of Storytelling .
Within Excel, click File, Options, and Add-ins. Use “insert” tab for functions. Analysis Tool Pak, Bubbles, People Graph, Bing Maps, Power Map, Power Pivot, Power View, Recommended Charts
Tableau Public
Tableau Public is a dynamic free software that allows anyone to connect to a spreadsheet or file and create interactive data visualizations for the web. It includes GIS Mapping and many other features.
Infographics have been riding the waves of the internet trend for the past years, and it’s not slowing down. Holding its hand is Piktochart, and holding your hand is the easy-to-use editor, created just for you. From background colors and images to inserting texts and banners, the Piktochart editor will empower you to do it within seconds.
Timeline is a fantastic widget which renders a beautiful interactive timeline that responds to the user's mouse, making it easy to create advanced timelines that convey a lot of information in a compressed space. Each element can be clicked to reveal more in-depth information, making this a great way to give a big-picture view while still providing full detail.
Exhibit makes data visualization a doddle. Developed by MIT, and fully open-source, Exhibit makes it easy to create interactive maps, and other data-based visualizations that are orientated towards teaching or static/historical based data sets, such as flags pinned to countries, or birthplaces of famous people. is a combined gallery and infographic generation tool. It offers a simple toolset for building stunning data presentations, as well as a platform to share your creations.
Fusion Charts
The most comprehensive JavaScript charting library, with over 90+ charts and 1000+ maps.
Compiled by Beverly Triana-Tremain Ph.D., CLSSGB
What's Happening Around the Region?

Check out the Mid America Prevention Technology Transfer Center region 7 website for resources and training!

Resources listed by state on our website!

Regional Podcast
Have you listened to the Mid America PTTC podcasts yet? In this series, you will find a mix of interviews, case studies, and prevention topics geared to help improve your efforts and move you toward success.
You can listen and subscribe on any of your favorite podcast platforms listed in this link.

Check out our most recent podcast!
Podcast Episode 19: Current Drug Tends - Promethazine
Publication Date: October 29, 2019
2019 Substance Abuse Prevention Conference

November 18-20, 2019
Lodge of Four Seasons
Lake Ozark, Missouri
Make plans now to join us for the 10 th Annual Substance Use Prevention Conference!

ACT Missouri invites preventionists, community coalition members, counselors, law enforcement officers, educators, school nurses and anyone that works with or cares for youth to attend. It will be an information packed opportunity to enhance prevention efforts, motivate volunteers, share ideas, network with others in the field, and get the latest updates and resources to keep Missouri’s kids safe and substance free!

For more information and to register online please visit our website :
Free Self-guided Learning Courses

  • Introduction to Substance Abuse Prevention: Understanding the Basics
  • Marijuana
  • E-Cigarettes and Vaping
  • Early Childhood Development: Toxic Stress and Adverse Childhood Experiences
  • Prevention in Action Series: Teaching the SAPST at a University
  • Minecraft, not Ms. Pac-Man: Transforming Prevention Presentations for Today's Audience
  • Evaluation
  • Social Media and Use of Technology
  • “Talk. They Hear You.” Campaign

Online Courses
All online courses can be accessed at:
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