Prevent First Time Use Through Education

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Introductory Paragraph

Prevention is defined as the action of stopping something from happening or arising. Prevention through education can be an effective way to prevent drug use and substance use disorders, which may reduce the number of overdoses and drug-related fatalities within a community [1]. These are often long-term strategies within the context of educating young people about the dangers and realities of using substances. Educational prevention programs can - and should - start at an early age. Society often promotes and glamorizes substance use. Young people are often exposed to substance use within their families and often feel peer pressure from friends who are already using substances. These are powerful forces in a young person's life that can be counteracted with effective education programs. Education and prevention are an important part of helping individuals understand the consequences of drugs and alcohol. The main focus of drug education and prevention is teaching individuals about substance abuse and the harmful impacts it has on people's lives. For this reason, hearing stories from those with lived experiences is a powerful prevention tool. These and other types of programs can help a person learn how to avoid, stop, or get help for addiction. Efforts also include those that target parents and provide them with the tools needed to educate their children about the dangers of drug use. Parents are also educated on warning signs that may indicate their child may already be using substances. This can lead to an early intervention that often prevents the progression into a substance use disorder [2].

Key Information

There are multiple different types of substance use education programs. Many successful approaches have been developed to target all types of populations. Programs have been developed to focus on different age groups, different racial and ethnic backgrounds, schools, families, faith-based organizations, doctors, pharmacists, and the wider community. While many programs focus on the impacts of drug use (including different drugs like prescription medications), others focus on building up the individual and helping them address risk factors like anxiety and trauma that often lead to drug use. Other prevention programs take the form of public awareness campaigns that seek to educate and warn large numbers of people [3].

One area of focus involves knowing the dangers of prescription medications, especially opioids and other pain medications. The "first wave" of the current epidemic started when powerful pain medications were developed, heavily marketed, and often over-prescribed. The addictive nature of these medications was largely unknown, and millions of people developed substance use disorder as a result. Strategies include how to educate both patients who are prescribed these medications and parents of children who may be prescribed - or given the option to be prescribed - pain medication [4].

Young people are perhaps the most critical population to target with prevention programs. Effective strategies include targeting where young people are located and the unseen risk factors that often lead to drug use and substance use disorder. School-based prevention programs are geared towards educating youth and creating resistance to peer pressure. At the core of most effective prevention strategies is an exploration of underlying trauma and other mental health challenges impacting today’s youth [5]. Even without major trauma, an increasing number of young people are feeling stress and anxiety at high levels that lead them to seek relief by using substances. Educating youth about this reality and encouraging them to express these feelings and seek help can achieve tremendous benefits for the individual [6].

Relevant Research

The American Addiction Centers report on the most effective methods of drug education in schools according to the students who experienced the drug education programs. Men and women who participated in school drug education programs both reported that learning about the possible dangers of substance abuse was the most impactful. Many respondents of the study reported that they did not receive any education about the dangers of commonly used substances such as meth and ecstasy. However, a larger percentage of individuals, over 84%, reported having received education on alcohol use in school. Over 64% of respondents reported that using substances in high school was socially acceptable and considered “cool”. Having an open and honest conversation about the dangerous consequences of using substances, even recreationally, is extremely important to young vulnerable children. This study conducted by the American Addiction Centers highlighted the strengths, weaknesses, and gaps in students’ perception, knowledge, and provided insight on how to adjust future programs in order to ensure the right information is delivered in the most effective way [7].

School-Based Prevention Through Education

Schools have been used to disseminate information about drug use because of their easy access to large populations of students. Many initial attempts at school-based drug education programs were unsuccessful due to the fact that they primarily focused on the dangers of substance use and used fear tactics to detour children. These initial attempts were not based on theory and failed to include information about developmental factors, social impacts, and etiologic risk factors that may put individuals at a higher risk for using substances. Studies exploring the effectiveness of Project Towards No Drug Use (Project TND) showed a 25% rate of reduction of hard drug use and between 7 and 12% alcohol use reduction in experimental high school groups. Results also showed a 27% reduction in cigarette use and a 22% reduction in marijuana use at one-year follow-up. This comprehensive and effective program comprised of group discussions, games, role plays, and worksheets that focused on motivational activities, skills training, and decision making. Topics covered in this educational program included attitudes, beliefs, and expectations regarding substance use, social skills, self-control, and emphasis on how to make health-promoting decisions. The underlying theory of how and why project TND works are based on the idea that students will not use drugs if they are aware of any misconceptions around drug use have adequate coping and social skills, know the negative consequences that may follow substance use, have an awareness of strategies for smoking and other drug cessation and have adequate decision-making skills[8].

Impactful Federal, State, and Local Policies

SAFE Solutions is an ever-growing platform. Currently, limited information is readily available for this section. SAFE Project is dedicated to providing communities with the most relevant and innovative materials. We will continue to regularly monitor and make updates accordingly with community input and subject matter expert collaboration. Please check back soon.

Available Tools and Resources

The Hanley Foundation[9]Hanley Foundation’s mission is to provide substance abuse prevention and education programs for parents, caregivers and school-age children. In addition, the foundation provides financial aid scholarships for patients who could not otherwise afford addiction treatment.

Mobile App for Parents “Talk. They Hear You.” is a mobile app designed to support parents and caregivers and prepare them for discussions with their children about alcohol and drug use. It provides information to assist parents to talk with their children and equip them with the necessary skills, confidence, and knowledge around the protentional dangers of substances. The app also helps communities become proactive in supporting the needs of children and parents who may already be experiencing substance use or are at risk [10].

Promising Practices

Life Skills Training (LST)

The Like Skills Training program is an evidence-based prevention program that has proven to reduce the risk of alcohol, tobacco, drug abuse, and violence by targeting social and psychological risk factors in youth that may lead to substance use and other risky behaviors. The U.S. Department of Education and the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention have recognized LST as an exemplary prevention program that is backed by over 30 studies to date. LST is comprised of three domains that provide education in efforts to prevent a wide range of high-risk behaviors including substance use. Drug Resistance Skills, Personal Self-Management Skills, and General Social Skills are explored and taught to participants in elementary, middle, and high school students. Rather than solely focusing on the dangers of drug abuse, the LST program highlights health alternatives to risky behavior, implement necessary skills to resist peer pressure, develop self-esteem and confidence, effectively cope with anxiety, increase understanding of immediate consequences of substance use, and enhance cognitive and behavioral competency in order to reduce a variety of risky behaviors. The program has shown to be effective in diverse populations such as white middle-class students, minority students, inner-city, suburban, and rural populations. The curriculum is highly effective when implemented in a classroom, within the community, faith-based centers, and in summer or after-school settings [11].

Creating Lasting Family Connections Program (CLFC)

This promising program was given a 3.7 out of 4 from the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices for the readiness of dissemination. CLFC was designed for high-risk families in an attempt to prevent substance use and violence. The program provides education on the importance of family bonding, enhances communications kills, and promotes health beliefs and attitudes in order to combat the onset of violence and drug use. Compared to the control groups, the families who participated in CLFC experienced less frequent alcohol use, decreased family pathology, increased use of community services, and increased parent knowledge on substance use [12].