Treatment and intervention without prevention is simply unsustainable. I understand that there are things we do in a triage or crisis situation that we wouldn’t tolerate in a more planned scenario. We are doing many drastic things and working hard in America to save lives and all of it is important, but without improving prevention efforts, without fully educating our youth to hinder the growth of demand, we will never stifle supply. We’re not spending prevention dollars where we need to and on what works. If this continues, the pandemic will worsen and millions will die unnecessarily.
There are drones of Americans who are genuinely concerned about the drug epidemic. This is evidenced by over a billion dollars being donated, allocated, and spent on drug prevention each year. Thank you concerned citizens.
Sadly, the number of teens having diminished coping skills and pacifying themselves with drugs continues to grow. How could this be? How can more people become addicted under the care of professionals having access to the scholarly reports that compare what works and what does not? In the presence of this wealth of information, we continue to put more than 70% of our prevention funding on the models that simply do not work. We have gotten it so blatantly wrong that even the mildest conspiracy theorist would be swayed to believe that this must be some intentional act of social negligence.
So, can we talk about the elephant in the room? Addiction and addictive behavior will never go away. The vices will continue to change, but the threat of addiction will always remain. What tools do we have to manage the threat of addiction? What are our bestknown prevention tools?
The most popular, most practiced, and most funded intervention is the Information Model of drug prevention. This is the practice of providing drug facts, descriptions and the personal outcomes related to use. The problem is, this model does not work. It does not adequately explain the cause or the effect of drugs on society. Studies of this intervention have yielded disappointing results and it has been found to be “ineffective.” Yet, most of our good intentioned prevention dollars are spent on this model and we continue to operate under its constructs.
On the other hand, the best prevention model we have; educate our youth about the effects that drugs have on our world. It cultivates good decision making, promotes drug resistance techniques and adds more positive choices to the lives of those tempted by the many drug options. This prevention technique is called the Social Influence Model. It is one of the most recent models and studies say it is the “most promising intervention”.
You would imagine all of us good intentioned contributors would have learned this information and begun to funnel loads of money in that direction. Instead, we complacently continue to do what is customary. We heavily fund programs we are accustomed to, instead of what works.
Research indicates that students who are taught the social impact of drug use (Social Influence Model), tend to resist drugs and make better decisions. Our children are being born in the midst of a vastly ignored and sometimes socially accepted drug epidemic and we now have data that suggest; most students will not contribute to this drug epidemic if they are given knowledge of the ways it affects our society. It is their sense of protection for the world that causes them to resist.
How inspiring it is to know that the young generally care about the world more than themselves. They may not care about their own physical, mental or emotional well-being enough to resist drugs, but learning how drug use impacts society has proven to be the best drug deterrent. When our kids know better, they will do better, and the world will become better for it. So, we must begin to ensure we are giving them the information that matters.
We have a duty to our youth, and we need to critically think about our next steps in prevention because doing the wrong thing is just as bad as doing nothing at all. How do we grow this sense of duty that has been proven to hedge off negative tendencies?
Negative tendencies normally arise from social stagnation. What can we do to prevent the social stagnation amongst the youth? This question brings us to the last, and arguably, missing peg of prevention intervention: Purpose. Gaining an actual socially-contributing role gives us all purpose. Could purpose be the anti-drug? In what ways can they use their purpose to become a resource in their schools and communities before becoming of employable age?
Let us consider leadership and peer mentor training as a proposed added intervention to cultivate social purpose. Systematically implemented peer leadership training allows students to begin to work in their social purpose. Leadership and peer mentoring could give students a purposeful social function and serve as a drug prevention intervention. After all, increased social function is an accepted indicator of improved physical, mental and emotional health. Adding this intervention, as a self-actualizing cognitive behavioral therapy, could give the Social Influence model added effectiveness.
The Social Influence model inspires adolescents to make better decisions, like resisting drugs so they don’t harm their world. Systematic leadership/peer mentor training in schools teach our youth what they can do to help their world. That is where our dollars should go because through implementation of these interventions they will be prompted to both resist drugs and learn how to positively contribute to the world. That is the full circle lesson that needs to be taught in prevention.
We seem to be collectively missing the mark. We are making an obvious misallocation of our good intentioned dollars. Our youth are desperate for purposeful, socially contributing roles and in the absence of these social roles in our community; they tend to seek pseudo cultures like gang and drug communities. We need to decide if we are ready to evolve from the ease of repetition and take the steps needed for radical change in prevention.
Drug prevention is not only about drug education and drug resistance. It may also require us to find ways promote purpose. It is time to challenge the customary programs to stop focusing on drug information and become more socially focused. It is time to challenge each state’s Core Curriculum Standard on drug education to do the same. Moreover, it is time to figure new ways to give our youth meaningful, social roles that compete with the opportunities available to them in the street.