County by County Blog

Project updates, commentaries, events and news about health across the nation from the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps team.

Tackling Substance Misuse in Florence County, Wis.

In Florence County, a sprawling rural community in northeastern Wisconsin, the distance between residents and resources is great. Residents often travel hours to access health care in neighboring counties. 

In 2013, the county conducted a Community Health Assessment using data from the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, which helped the county health department identify mental health and substance misuse as priorities. The community also noted that young people in Florence County are facing high levels of underage drinking, binge drinking, prescription drug abuse and severe mental health concerns. With limited resources, ensuring young people receive the care they need posed a significant challenge. 

To address these priorities, the Florence County Health Department formed the Florence County Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and Mental Health (AODA/MH) Coalition. The coalition of local leaders adopted a strategy to prioritize prevention, localize solutions and develop data collection methods.

Focusing on prevention of mental health issues and substance misuse allows the coalition to maximize its impact. Since the county only has one mental health provider, the coalition plans educational events that give residents access to mental health resources. They host school-based workshops on topics such as bullying, stress and substance use. An evidence-based Dose of Reality initiative from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services teaches youth and caregivers about the harms of pain killer abuse and the signs of prescription misuse.

The coalition also works to ensure these opportunities are accessible. The workshops are free and resources are also offered in Spanish. 

The coalition is made up of service providers from the county, giving members deep and personal understanding of the county’s challenges. The community ties also help coalition members collect in-depth, qualitative data, which they combine with national quantitative data. The combination of data provides a more complete picture and allows the coalition to more easily track its programs’ progress. 

They also seek to be a voice for smaller, rural counties as they navigate maximizing the limited resources they have. Said Jen Steber, AODA/MH coalition member: “We want a national organization to recognize the difference and uniqueness of small and rural counties and the needs we may have. We deserve the same level of services that larger counties ... may receive.” 

To learn more about Florence County’s work, visit its full community spotlight

Related Blog Posts