Friday, August 15, 2014

"Just say no" is old news

Recently, Colorado launched a media campaign with the goal of preventing teen marijuana use.  Called "Don't be a lab rat", the campaign seems to take a similar tact as the anti-tobacco "truth" campaign.  Response to the campaign seems to be mixed with some people comparing it to the ineffective "This is your brain on drugs" campaign from the 1980's.

Prevention science has evolved quite a bit over the past thirty years and we know that scare tactics about health impacts don't work for preventing teen drug use.  We also know what does work and most are programs and policies implemented at the community level.     

Programs that work
Programs are usually activities, including school-based curricula, in which children and/or their parents participate that provide education and support for preventing teen drug use. The National Registry of Evidence Based Programs and Practices is an online database that provides an extensive list of programs that are proven to be effective.

In NE Seattle, Eckstein Middle School provides three programs proven to prevent teen drug use: 
Seattle Public Schools recently was awarded a grant to implement Project Alert in middle schools. 

If you take a look at them you will notice that the programs mostly teach social-emotional skills and parenting skills.  They provide basic information about drugs but as a science teacher I worked with once noted, the curricula don't necessarily fit into a science class.  They are filled with information about how to deal with social and emotional situations that may increase a teenager's likelihood for trying drugs.  They are filled with information to help parents support healthy decision-making among their children.  That's what works.

Community-based activities that work
Communities have a role to play in preventing teen drug use, too.  Policies that reduce availability, increase prices, and support the enforcement of laws are proven to reduce youth alcohol and tobacco use.  Community laws and norms that support healthy adolescent development amplify the messages that teens receive from programs and from their parents.

Examples of community-based prevention activities conducted by Prevention WINS include:
  • A media awareness and advocacy campaign focusing on underage drinking parties in parks.  A video appearing on the coalition homepage is part of the awareness campaign.
  • An advocacy campaign for the adoption of a secure medicine return program by the King County Board of Health.  
  • Letters to the Liquor Control Board about alcohol and marijuana regulations.  Most recently, Prevention WINS provided prevention-related advice regarding marijuana regulations.  In the past, the coalition advocated for restrictions on alcohol advertising and the removal of a liquor license from a NE Seattle convenience store selling beer to minors.  
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't write: community-based coalitions work.  Prevention WINS is such a coalition.  When individuals and organizations come together to identify risk factors specific to their community and implement programs and policies that address those risk factors, teen drug use rates drop.  In 2011, Prevention WINS celebrated a drop in NE Seattle underage drinking rates.


Despite what is prolifically reported through media, prevention efforts have not used scare tactics to prevent youth drug use for many years.  Instead, parents have been encouraged to talk with their children about avoiding drugs and making healthy decisions.  Middle school students have learned how to deal with social situations and emotions that may put them at risk for trying drugs.  Communities have been encouraged to adopt policies that prevent teen access to drugs and support healthy youth development.

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