SAMSHA / SAMHSA – A source of drug addiction recovery help?

The U.S. government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) just updated their website. Yay. Although their core mission is to reduce the impact of drug and alcohol abuse and mental illness on our communities, their technological tools and marketing efforts are sadly behind the times. We explore here.

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SAMSHA’s online efforts

Governments are notorious late bloomers when adapting technology tools.  I find this true of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s approach to the internet.  In fact, it makes me laugh to read in a recent press release that one administrator thinks that SAMSHA “has the ability to foster innovation and engage in a rapidly evolving health care environment.”  Although they have this month made it easier to navigate their website and have added new social media tools (Twitter feeds, YouTube channel…all of the social media must-have’s), SAMSHA is noticeably failing to attract visitors to their drug and alcohol treatment locator tool.

Why is this?

Finding alcohol and drug treatment

One of the most important goals of SAMHSA is to help Americans find treatment for substance abuse problems locally.  But SAMHSA IS NOT using search engine optimization techniques to funnel people to their website.  In fact, there seems to be no plan, no knowledge of and no interest in SEO.  As a result, the “Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator” goes underused and unknown.

Millions of people need treatment

SAMSHA claimes that in 2009, “approximately 20 million people who needed substance abuse treatment did not receive it.” So in a recent phone call to their Office of Communications, when one SAMHSA communications officer claimed that “hundreds of people find the website every day, ” again, I have to laugh.  That does not even REMOTELY meet the demand.  If SAMSHA is to be up to par for providing a search tool thousands of people should access it every day. This means that the tool needs to be optimized for how people are searching, not for how SAMHSA wants to organize information.

Suggestions for SAMSHA

I have a feeling that SAMSHA is relying on its status as a government body to stay still and hope that people find them.  With 1200 daily searches for the keywords SAMSHA or SAMHSA, this may seem OK.  But this strategy of status quo internet marketing does not optimize for the potential to help people looking for drug addiction help.  I’d even guess that less than 5% of Americans even know that SAMSHA exists!  This means that they need to open other doors (via keywords) so that people can find their information…which in the end, is king.  Here are some quick suggestions:

  1. Implement search engine optimization techniques throughout the site.  Get familiar with addiction related keywords and then use them in naming conventions for page titles, headings, and structural links throughout the site.
  2. Rename the “Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator“.  Call it something like: “Drug Addiction Treatment Finder”
  3. Get rid of redundant landing pages like: block direct acess to information.  Place text from this information on an “About” page for the tool.

What do you think?  Is SAMHSA on the edge of something great?  Or lacking even the basic principles of search marketing?  Your comments are welcome here.

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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