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What We Do

Substance Abuse Prevention

As part of the Public Policy Institute’s focus on preventing and ending poverty, we target one of the root causes (and results) of lack of income and connectedness: substance abuse.

Uniquely, we don’t offer treatment or recovery services. Instead, we look at the "upstream" factors that can lead to substance abuse and focus our intention there. In that way, we try to prevent substance abuse from ever taking hold. We look at risk factors in neighborhoods, mass media messaging, opportunities for young people to learn and thrive, and supports for families, educators, human services professionals, and young people themselves.

We firmly believe that prevention works. After all, if young people live in a safe and supportive neighborhood, understand the harms caused by substance abuse, are given the tools to make healthy decisions, and feel a sense of self-worth, dignity, and hope, their risk of becoming entangled in substance use and misuse decreases. Not only does prevention help individuals, but it also plays a role in promoting healthy communities, positive family relationships, and more promising futures. What’s more, prevention is more cost-effective (and less traumatic) than investing in recovery and treatment from substance use disorders.

We provide prevention services in a variety of ways:

  • Directly intervening with vulnerable individuals who are more likely to engage in a negative behavior
  • Targeting entire communities that show a higher level of unhealthy activities or environments, for example, through public awareness campaigns using posters, social media, billboards, and public service announcements
  • Participating in coalitions made up of allied organizations to broaden community engagement
  • Distributing grant awards and providing training and support to local organizations

Here’s how we do it:

Milwaukee County Substance Abuse Prevention (MCSAP) Coalition: MCSAP is a diverse coalition of Milwaukee County partners who prevent and reduce substance use and misuse. Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division selected PPI to coordinate and staff this broad coalition. MCSAP focuses its efforts on preventing youth substance use, with an emphasis on marijuana, and preventing prescription drug misuse. Highlights include:

  • Sponsoring public service announcements highlighting the risks of substance abuse during the holidays and the benefits of disposing of unwanted medication
  • Encouraging Milwaukee County residents to dispose of their medication safely and to store it securely
  • Organizing annual youth summits on marijuana and supporting youth-led anti-marijuana messaging
  • Connecting organizations that seek to prevent substance abuse and promote healthy behaviors and communities
  • Providing Dose of Reality information and materials at select Marquette men’s basketball games to connect with students, alumni, and fans

In addition, MCSAP selects eight Stay Strong MKE grantees to implement evidence-based youth substance abuse prevention curricula such as Botvin’s LifeSkills to prevent youth marijuana and prescription drug/opioid use.

Interested in learning more about MCSAP? Contact Alexandria Kohn at

53206 Drug-Free Communities Project: The 53206 Drug-Free Communities Project aims to reduce youth alcohol and marijuana use in 53206 neighborhoods by middle and high school-age students. The 53206 DFC aims to promote positive youth development and resilience in the neighborhood and support youth and families to thrive through DFC activities and by partnering with established community organizations. PPI coordinates and staffs this collaborative project. Among its initiatives are:

  • Conducting youth drug awareness surveys to understand young people’s attitudes toward and knowledge of alcohol and other substances
  • Helping to organize MCSAP’s annual youth summits
  • Working with community partners to conduct retail assessments on the marketing and sales of tobacco, e-cigarettes, alcohol, and food
  • Partnering with the Milwaukee Police Department to conduct youth alcohol compliance checks in neighborhood shops

Sober Truth On Preventing Underage Drinking (STOP) Act is a supplemental component of DFC that focuses on alcohol prevention through a media campaign and environmental change strategies. The 53206 DFC is utilizing the STOP Act grant by highlighting the “Talk. They Hear You” campaign targeted at parents and youth to encourage conversations about drinking alcohol. Other STOP projects are expanded alcohol compliance checks with underage buyers attempting to purchase alcohol, and social media messaging to educate public on underage alcohol use. 

An additional component, Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) dollars support the DFC’s work preventing opioid misuse and abuse by educating prescribers on best practices, peer to peer messaging to prevent drug use among youth, and social media messaging to educate public on prescription drug abuse. 

Interested in learning more about the 53206 Drug-Free Communities Project? Contact Kari Southern at

City of Milwaukee Tobacco-Free Alliance: This city-wide coalition is dedicated to promoting health equity and reducing the death and disease caused by tobacco use and exposure in the City of Milwaukee. The Alliance focuses primarily on youth tobacco prevention, smoke-free housing, and reducing/eliminating health disparities in tobacco use and exposure. The Alliance is especially interested in the impact of vaping on youth and the exposure of youth to tobacco marketing and sales.

Interested in learning more about the City of Milwaukee Tobacco-Free Alliance? Contact Kari Southern at

The Wisconsin Strategic Prevention Framework Partnerships for Success: PPI’s Partnerships for Success collaboration focuses on three main strategies: implementing public awareness efforts to prevent and reduce youth substance use; supporting drug security, collection, and disposal; and sponsoring drug recognition education. PFS partners are the Cudahy Health Department, Greendale Health Department, Greenfield Health Department, MCSAP, Oak Creek Health Department, Safe & Sound 27th Street, Volition Franklin, and West Allis West Milwaukee Heroin/Opiate Task Force.

Want to learn more about the Partnerships for Success? Contact Chovonne Hart at

Alliance for Wisconsin Youth: PPI administers the Southeast Region of the Alliance for Wisconsin Youth coalition to coordinate and provide technical support to coalitions across eight counties in Southeast Wisconsin. AWY enhances the capacity of member coalitions to prevent substance abuse and support an ATODA-free lifestyle for youth. Coalitions pursue projects related to alcohol and drug prevention education, drug collection programs, parent education, compliance checks, public awareness campaigns, social host outreach to parents, outreach to retailers, public policy advocacy, and more.

Want to learn more about the Alliance for Wisconsin Youth? Contact Hannah Lepper at

Milwaukee Brighter Futures is a network of agencies that are committed to substance use prevention and positive youth development strategies in Milwaukee. We provide fiscal oversight, coordination, and training and technical assistance to The Parenting Network, Neu Life Community Development, Milwaukee Christian Center, United Community Center, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Milwaukee.

Our Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare project re-grants funds to evidence-based programs to reduce substance use in adolescents and parents/caregivers through the evidence-based Botvin LifeSkills Curriculum.

Want to learn more about Milwaukee Brighter Futures Initiative? Contact Kari Southern at