It is no secret that West Virginia children and families are at extreme risk for negative life outcomes. West Virginia tops the US average in childhood adversity at 55.8 percent, scoring higher than the national average at 46 percent.
Research indicates that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) contribute to high stress levels that derail healthy development and increase risks for unhealthy behaviors. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention CDC, ACEs are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance use problems in adolescence and adulthood. ACEs continue to negatively impact education, job opportunities, and earning potential in many ways. ACEs include experiences such as having parents who are divorced or separated, experiencing violence, abuse, or neglect, growing up in a household with substance use problems, mental health problems, having a household member serve prison or jail time, living in households with violence or in households that are struggling financially, and witnessing violence in the home or community. It is important to note that the examples listed are not a complete list of ACEs and many other traumatic experiences can impact health and well-being.
West Virginia is consistently in the top three states for opioid-related overdoses and deaths. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), from 2014 to 2017, the drug overdose death rate in the state increased from 35.5 per 100,000 to 57.8 per 100,000, far exceeding any other state in the nation. For over a decade, West Virginia has led the nation in age-adjusted drug overdose death rates (applying age-specific rates in a population of interest to a standardized age distribution due to the effects of differences in population age distributions). Due to the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic such as financial strain, job loss, depression, stress, anxiety, disrupted routines, disruption of treatment and recovery services, and limited access to services and support, it is anticipated that drug overdose-related deaths will continue to impact the state. In fact, they are expected to increase. With the overwhelming number of negative statistics out there, West Virginia’s future generations are at significant risk of becoming the substance use epidemic of tomorrow if effective strategies are not implemented. In conjunction to the substance use epidemic, West Virginia has extreme poverty and homeless rates.
Efforts to implement effective strategies to alleviate ACEs include promotion and prevention. While both have the same focus on keeping individuals healthy, there are key differences. As defined by the World Health Organization, health promotion “…enables people to increase control over their own health.” It covers a wide range of social and environmental interventions that are designed to benefit and protect individual people’s health and quality of life by addressing and preventing the root causes of ill health, not just focusing on treatment and cure. Health promotion encourages and empowers individuals to choose healthy behaviors in hopes of increasing control and improving their overall health (promoting lifestyle changes, promoting mental health and emotional well-being, increasing access to healthy foods, etc.). Prevention efforts differ due to health prevention focusing on specifics that reduce the development of chronic diseases (vaccinations, regular exams, exercise programs to prevent heart attacks, etc.).
With health promotion and prevention efforts being extremely relevant today, it is important that individuals and communities take an approach that empowers one another to take action to understand and improve their overall health. According to the Rural Health Information Hub, these efforts can be done in a few different ways including communication, education, and advocating for systematic change. Communication includes raising awareness, which can be done via social media campaigns, health fairs, and making it a topic of conversation with family and friends. Education includes increasing knowledge by implementing programs in schools, community trainings and offering support groups. Advocating for systematic change includes improving laws and policies, creating functional organizational systems, and to encourage, make available, and enable healthy choices within economic, social, or physical environments.
The EdVenture Group is committed to creating customized solutions to educational challenges, including prevention and promotion efforts. Breaking the Cycle is a new initiative of The EdVenture Group that is focused on preventing ACEs and their negative impacts by working with children, families, schools, and communities to create customized unique solutions to specific community needs, empower individuals, and foster safe, supportive interpersonal relationships. Our team is excited to explore new opportunities and build partnerships to reach these goals. If you’re interested in learning more about Breaking the Cycle or would like to consider a partnership with us, please reach out to Victoria Taylor at [email protected].