Most middle/high schools have some sort of drug prevention program, where an assembly, field-trip, or day long event is put in place to encourage youth to make smart choices and prevent substance abuse. For me, this meant a field trip to the P.A.R.T.Y. (Prevent Alcohol and Risk-Related Trauma in Youth) Program in Calgary. The day itself was full of interesting information, talks from survivors and the chance to experience a simulated injury incurred from substance abuse during lunch break. I’m sure all of my grade ten classmates had a different ‘take home message’ from that experience, however as we all grew up and graduated together, I truly wonder how effective that program was (if you’re also from a small red-neck town, I’m sure you know exactly what I mean).
So what is harm reduction? “Harm Reduction refers to policies, programmes and practices that aim primarily to reduce the adverse health, social and economic consequences of the use of legal and illegal psychoactive drugs without necessarily reducing drug consumption. Harm reduction benefits people who use drugs, their families and the community”. There are multiple obvious reasons why these programs are tailored towards youth/students, and the P.A.R.T.Y. program’s stance is based “on the understanding that 90% of all injuries are both predictable and preventable” and “is about experiencing what happens when young people make a decision that changes their life forever”.
For these programs, there are a few different ways to get their point across to youth. In a 2016 article commentary by Theodore Caputi and Kevin Sabet, they mention Scare Tactics (a method sometimes including graphic images and videos, as well as ‘horror’ stories told by survivors or families), Mainstream Prevention Programs (such as ‘Keepin’ it REAL) and Harm Reduction Programs (such as D.A.R.E. and SHAHRP).
It’s mentioned by Caputi and Sabet that the most effective of these three options is Mainstream Prevention Programs, in which a 2008 systematic review by Faggiano and colleagues found that there was a “55% reduction of hard drug use” when the methods of prevention were “drug knowledge, decision making, self esteem and peer pressure resistance” (Faggiano et al., 2008). It is also worth mentioning the least effective of the three were Scare Tactics. This method was most popular in the 1990’s and are mistakenly still used today, but research proves that scare tactics are simply unsuccessful, and can actually have damaging effects (National Institute of Health Science panel, 2004).
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources affirms why Scare Tactics don’t work in 5 very simple points;
- Often youth dismiss these messages, as a defense to the feeling of fear.
- Youth have a different filter than adults.
- High risk groups can be MORE attracted to the behaviour
- Strong warnings can send unintended messages
- Trauma: Showing graphic images could bring up past traumas
In conclusion; prevention is complicated, and regardless of method used (although preferably not Scare Tactics), these programs should use tested methods to increase the overall effectiveness of “prevention science”, and educational institutes should be the ones making smart choices that have proven science and work best for encouraging the health of their students.
Thank you for reading! 🙂
Caputi, T. L., & Sabet, K. A. (2016). Commentary on “New Perspectives on Drug Education/Prevention”. Journal of psychoactive drugs, 48(3), 227-229.
Faggiano, F., Vigna-Taglianti, F. D., Versino, E., Zambon, A., Borraccino, A., & Lemma, P. (2008). School-based prevention for illicit drugs use: A systematic review. Preventive medicine, 46(5), 385-396.
McBride, N., Farringdon, F., Midford, R., Meuleners, L., & Phillips, M. (2004). Harm minimization in school drug education: final results of the School Health and Alcohol Harm Reduction Project (SHAHRP). Addiction, 99(3), 278-291.
Singh, R. D., Jimerson, S. R., Renshaw, T., Saeki, E., Hart, S. R., Earhart, J., & Stewart, K. (2011). A summary and synthesis of contemporary empirical evidence regarding the effects of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education Program (DARE). Contemporary School Psychology: Formerly” The California School Psychologist”, 15(1), 93-102.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, NIH Consensus Development Program, NIH News, October 15, 2004