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Over two decades, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) made an unprecedented philanthropic investment in substance-use prevention and treatment, driving substantial evolution in the field. RWJF and its grantees were leading contributors to progress related to increased knowledge of the substance-use problem, relevant policies and advocacy, efficacious prevention programming, and field-building to strengthen research and practice. In addition to these successes, RWJF evaluated its program’s impact and uncovered lessons on how it could have furthered its mission through adoption of a more focused strategy and more effective linking of its strategy to evaluation efforts. 

Top Takeaways

  1. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) dedicated nearly $700 million over the course of two decades to substance-use prevention and treatment efforts, establishing over 33 major national programs and initiatives and supporting over 1,500 individual grants.
  2. RWJF’s achievements in the substance-use field include building the evidence base for effective interventions, raising awareness of the problem of youth binge drinking, enhancing understanding of addiction as a treatable medical condition, and supporting the development of high-quality standards of care for substance-use and addiction treatment services.
  3. While RWJF significantly contributed to the substance-use field, this assessment identified missed strategic opportunities for increased impact, including the need for: an explicit, overarching strategy to guide programmatic decisions; broader engagement with a wider set of stakeholders to better coordinate and maximize efficiency of available resources; and, piloting of innovative program strategies for better learning and refinement. 
The Foundation’s successes, along with its challenges and missteps, hold important lessons to inform RWJF’s work on other critical public health issues.