The editorial states: “Just Say No” messages won’t work in this era."
Adolescent substance abuse prevention has evolved a great deal over the past twenty years thanks to prevention research and has not been about “Just Say No” for quite a while. What does research tell use about how to effectively prevent adolescent substance use, including marijuana use?
Prevention needs to start early. Parents should start talking to their children about not using drugs by the end of elementary school and at the latest by the end of middle school. A locally-developed parent guide can provide parents with information on what to say. Among the research-backed strategies:
- A “no use” attitude is important. Children whose parents have a positive attitude toward marijuana use are five times more likely to use marijuana by 8th grade.
- Be clear about family rules against using drugs, including marijuana, and set clear guidelines.
- Make sure those guidelines are followed and follow through on reasonable consequences if rules are broken.
- Monitor your own behavior – parents are role models for their children.
As the editorial states: “With other budget pressures, Olympia will be tempted to tap into future marijuana tax revenues that I-502 specifically dedicated to prevention.” In recent years, the legislature cut and then eliminated funding for the statewide Community Mobilization program, an evidence-based prevention program. Most prevention funding now comes from the federal government and they, too, are always looking to cut expenditures.
In addition to funding, lawmakers can be a part of a comprehensive prevention strategy. Examples of policies that prevent teen drug use include:
- Enforcing marijuana laws, both medical and recreational. Seattle drug use prevention coalitions have heard from kids that they can get marijuana easily through retail dispensaries. Among Seattle high school students who use marijuana, 39% report using marijuana that came from a dispensary, likely through friends who bought it legally (with a recommendation) or illegally (without a recommendation.)
- Enacting and enforcing social host laws for both marijuana and alcohol to prevent parents from providing teenagers with the drugs.
- Supporting limits on the number of retail outlets in jurisdictions and neighborhoods within those jurisdictions.
Adolescent substance use prevention is most effective when multiple sectors of the community implement a variety of strategies. To guide the selection of prevention strategies, communities can look at their local Healthy Youth Survey (HYS) data which not only provides data on use rates but information about risk factors that are specific to their community.
For instance, the Prevention WINS coalition recently started planning to address the risk factor of “decreasing perception of risk” associated with marijuana use. Since 2006 the coalition has tracked risk and protective factors specific to NE Seattle and every two years HYS data indicated that perceptions of risk decreased. Data-driven decisions worked in NE Seattle in the past and continue to guide future prevention activities.
The video below, featuring Dr. J. David Hawkins from the University of Washington, provides more information about what communities can do when working together and guided by local data.