Join Together Online
Features & Commentary
More Communities Must Ask: Will Prevention Programs Work? 10/15/2004
Commentary By David Rosenbloom, Ph.D.
School drug-education programs ought to be part of every community prevention strategy. They should also be evidence-based. Because the stakes are so high, communities must carefully examine what their schools are teaching children and youth about drugs, ensuring that this vital investment in the lives of young people will pay off.
This summer, San Francisco and several other California school districts asked a simple question that should be posed in every community: Will their school drug-education program actually prevent kids from using drugs?
The answer to this essential question can be surprising. San Francisco asked a panel of independent medical and addiction experts to review Narconon, a drug-prevention program developed by the Church of Scientology that is used by schools throughout California and in other states.
The panel, which included physicians certified by the American Society of Addiction Medicine and experts on drug education, unanimously concluded that the Narconon program did not incorporate current scientific knowledge about drugs and addiction, and did not use research-based "best practices" that have been shown to prevent youth drug use.
Based upon this review, San Francisco removed Narconon drug education from its public schools. At least four other California school districts have made similar moves, and the state of California is conducting its own scientific review of the Narconon program.
This has happened before. Other well-intentioned and popular drug-prevention programs, such as the original DARE curriculum, have failed to demonstrate adequate results when subjected to careful scientific evaluation. Our knowledge of what does -- and does not -- work continues to build, and prevention funders are taking notice. The federal government, our nation's largest financial supporter of prevention programs, is moving steadily toward a funding system that holds communities accountable for using proven programs that result in fewer kids using alcohol and drugs.
The good news is that communities can choose from a growing list of drug-education programs that have been rigorously tested and found effective in preventing or reducing substance use and related high-risk behaviors. SAMHSA's model programs website is an excellent place to start.
Children and young people are best served when drug education is based upon sound science. I congratulate San Francisco for insisting on evidence-based drug education, and I'm proud that Steve Heilig, who chaired the review panel, and San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom are Join Together National Leadership Fellows. I hope that many more leaders across America will demand the same standards for their community's children.
David Rosenbloom is Director of Join Together.
Gerry Armstrong http://www.gerryarmstrong.org