Do you know what may be the most catastrophic public health situation of all time? Adverse Childhood Experiences, referred to as ACEs, have preventable factors that have been found to have a high correlation with risk for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse, suicide, obesity, COPD, and premature death. There is a powerful movement sweeping the country, motivated by hope for transformation. People from all walks of life are investing in creating awareness and understanding of ACEs.
Research started by the CDC and Kaiser Permanente leaves no doubt that the developing brain of a child subjected to adverse experiences, thereby toxic stress, is at far greater risk of succumbing to one or more of the leading causes of death in adulthood. There are solutions to this problem, but right now data shows a dramatic worsening of ACEs in our youth. Maricopa county is not exempt from this problem. Data from the National Survey of Children’s Health 2011-12 found “the number of Arizona children with 2 or more ACEs is significantly higher than the U.S. as a whole.” (www.azaces.org)
The price tag on outcomes related to toxic stress from childhood adversity is yet another factor compelling society to take note and make changes. According to the CDC, “the economic and social costs to families, communities, and society totals hundreds of billions of dollars each year.” (cdc.gov).
The ultimate goal is prevention of ACEs and building resilience for those who have experienced ACEs. Widespread improvements in policies and practices within organizations, communities, caregiving settings and households can turn this trend around. Just as research has made us aware of the shocking extent of the problem, research is also providing tools and new ideas for prevention and healing.
The Way Out West (WOW) Coalition formed for substance abuse prevention in Buckeye, is embracing the ACE movement by promoting education and incorporating awareness of research findings into their activities. Understanding substance abuse behaviors as reactive adaptation and mitigation leads to a better understanding of effective strategies for prevention and treatment.