THE CHALLENGE: Substance abuse has a high cost for individuals and society. This chronic condition affects people of all ages but has its origins in adolescence.

In recent years, the health field’s understanding of substance abuse has evolved from that of a moral or social failure to a public health issue that recognizes substance use disorders as preventable and treatable chronic conditions. Substance use disorders pose high costs to individuals and society: they are a leading cause of preventable death and disability, a key contributing factor to all leading causes of teen death, a cause of violent and risky behaviors, and a barrier to successful academic performance and career advancement. Moreover, although large sums are spent on enforcing drug laws and treating serious addictions, public and philanthropic funding for early interventions that can prevent substance abuse is extremely limited.

ADDRESSING THE CHALLENGE: As the single largest private U.S. funder in the substance abuse field, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation can lead an effort to promote advances that have demonstrated a significant impact on reducing substance abuse.

The Hilton Foundation’s proposed annual funding commitment of $10 million establishes the Foundation as the leader among U.S. foundations. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has invested over $1 billion on this issue since 1972 but has since changed its focus and reduced its funding in this field. Open Society Institute is the next largest funder at $7 million per year and is eager to coordinate with the Hilton Foundation’s work. Research has highlighted an effective approach to substance abuse prevention through early intervention that is not yet in wide practice. The Foundation will champion this new approach, leverage substantial private and public funding, increase awareness, and spread adoption of this approach through key institutions such as health care providers, schools, and community organizations.