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Prevention Presents: Prevention Strategies - What works?

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  donna-bacon

Prevention Strategies - What Works?
Donna Bacon, M.Ed., LSC
Prevention Education Specialist

When our country was young, Benjamin Franklin penned the phrase, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), for each dollar spent on research-based prevention programs, a savings of up to $10 in treatment for alcohol and other substance abuse can be seen.  Keep in mind, however, that the NIH specified “research-based” programs. They also state that effective prevention programs should be long-term with repeated interventions and employ interactive techniques, such as peer discussion and role-playing that allow for active involvement.  Adding life skills to these programs can increase effects.  This is how prevention education works best in schools and communities and provides the most positive results. 

Now it’s time to discuss some “prevention” methods that have been proven to be less effective, but are still actively being used.  These time-honored methods include one-time events or assemblies, presentations that only explain the dangers of substances, scare tactics featuring crashed cars, motivational appeals using guest speakers who are in drug recovery or people who’ve lost friends and relatives to drugs or drunk driving, and zero-tolerance programs.  While students who experience these programs often report they liked them and found them meaningful, there is little evidence that liking such a program or experiencing an “emotionally powerful” presentation leads to changes in youth behavior.

In 2004, the US Department of Health and Human Services found that programs relying on scare tactics are not only ineffective, but may be counterproductive. Exaggerated dangers and biased presentations tend to make teens disbelieve the message and discredit the messenger.  Information-only programs often result in “it won’t happen to me” attitudes.  In the 1990s, research showed that only showing presentations by former addicts or lessons that display or show how drugs are consumed, may actually increase curiosity about using. 

These types of activities do help to raise general awareness and also reinforce the behavior of kids who already plan to steer clear of substances.  But preaching to the choir is not the same thing as prevention. Prevention efforts should strive to lower the risk of harm within the youth population as a whole, not just apply to the low-risk members. 

The most effective prevention strategies focus on healthy alternatives to drug and alcohol use, provide normative education using current statistics and make a point of correcting misconceptions that are rampant in the youth population.  Relying on evidence-based practices and making sure to focus on positive choices will increase the power of prevention in any community, including ours.  Please contact Dee Washington ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) if you are interested in how Harbor can provide free prevention programming at your child’s school.

https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/lessons-prevention-research

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306460302002952

http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/school_climate/drug_prevention_program_isnt_working.shtml  

 

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 dee-washington

Alcohol Awareness
Deirdre Washington, M.Ed., OCPS I
Manager, Prevention Education

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