As SAMHSA works to fill its data gaps, ATLAS® can be part of the solution

Caroline Davidson, MPH
About the Data

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released important findings on the SAMHSA Substance Abuse Block Grant program (SABG) - a program focused on planning, implementing and evaluating activities that prevent and treat addiction. The report shows that even though there has been a growth of the number of treatment facilities across the U.S. since 2009, there are still significant gaps in treatment capacity. 

The GAO report describes what is known about addiction treatment facilities, services, and overall capacity as of May 2020. It also looks at the information SAMHSA1 uses to assess the effect of three grant programs on access to addiction treatment. GAO found the following:

  • Only 6% of counties have all levels of addiction treatment available, including outpatient, residential, and hospital inpatient services; 
  • Nearly one-third of counties across the country had no levels of treatment available;
  • SAMHSA does not have reliable—consistent, relevant, and timely—data on the number of individuals provided treatment and recovery support services through the three grant programs.

GAO recommended that SAMHSA identify and make changes to its grant programs’ data collection efforts to improve two elements of reliability—the consistency and relevance—of data collected on individuals served. This more reliable information would help SAMHSA better understand who is and is not getting addiction help, and how the grant programs have changed that. SAMHSA agreed with this recommendation.

As SAMHSA looks at ways to better capture data to evaluate the effectiveness of its grant funding, it is important to highlight Shatterproof’s ATLAS®, the addiction treatment locator, assessment and standards platform that is being piloted in six states as of July 2020.  In these states – Delaware, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina and West Virginia – ATLAS collects and displays comprehensive data on treatment facilities.  Shatterproof aims to use ATLAS not only to identify how many people are being treated, but also to measure and display the quality of that treatment, in order to improve patient outcomes. Through ATLAS, we are collecting critical data on treatment quality from facilities, patients, and insurance claims. We are working together with the payer and provider communities and state governments to make this happen.  

The ATLAS data on each treatment facility is collected through quality measures based on National Principles of Care, to identify any gaps in service for the treatment facility to improve the quality of its treatment. The data have been shown to be reliable and valid, and can help patients and loved ones make informed choices about where to get addiction treatment.

In order to make sure more people can know the quality of addiction treatment near them, Shatterproof is planning to expand the reach of ATLAS to more states in 2021. In these states, Substance Abuse Block Grant recipients should submit annual data on their facilities in conjunction with ATLAS. This is a natural step to standardize the data reported across states, and helps make sure SAMHSA doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to data collection.

GAO and SAMHSA have identified an important need for consistent and reliable data to assess outcomes.  Fortunately, key partners like Shatterproof are already at work in piloting a solution. Let’s work together – to grow ATLAS across the country, to make sure we have the quality data we need, and to reverse the addiction crisis we face. 


1 The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the government’s main agency working to support Americans with addiction and/or mental illness