Implementing Evidence-based Substance Use Prevention During a Pandemic

Most organizations and professionals agree that evidence-based programs (EBPs) are critical to ensuring positive outcomes and wise use of scarce agency resources.  

However, there are five key reasons most substance use EBPs are also very challenging to implement, particularly during a pandemic like Covid-19.  They include: 

1. The time required for implementation. 

    Often, evidence-based substance use prevention programs take weeks, months or even years to fully implement.  Since most organizations and agencies are time-strapped, this makes implementing most EBIs impractical if not impossible.  Organizations like schools, for example, find it extremely difficult to provide multi-session EBPs within their already overloaded schedules and multiple demands for their time.  This is especially the case now, with the increased challenges of providing any educational programming due to Covid-19.

    2. The time and expense it takes to get trained to provide them. 

    Most evidence-based programs, including those for preventing substance use, require training to learn how to implement them with fidelity and effectiveness.  Initial program implementer training can sometimes last two, three or even five-days to complete. Training of trainer workshops are oftentimes even longer than program implementer training.  Add to this the financial cost of training and travel to get to a training site, and most EBP training ends up being a costly investment. In addition, the current pandemic has made face-to-face training nearly impossible due to safety concerns.

    3. Lack of interest in addressing substance use prevention. 

      The lack of interest in substance use prevention occurs at multiple levels.  Youth become less interested in the topic of substance use as they reach their teen and young adult years.  Parents are oftentimes uninterested because they believe their child, teen or young adult is not among those at risk for use or harm.  And lastly, many organizations and communities are in denial regarding the widespread nature of substance use or how it affects their youth, and hold the perception that if they try to openly address substance use it will signal to others that they have a unique problem other similar organizations and communities do not have.  Once again, the current Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated this problem by placing other priorities such as general education and even participating in extramural activities like sports ahead of substance use prevention programming.

      4. Continuation of program costs over time. 

        The cost of providing EBPs include purchasing curricula or program manuals, as well as materials used by participating youth and parents.  These later program materials usually require repeated purchases for each new group of participating youth and/or parents.  In addition, some EBPs charge for materials or services to promote and even evaluate the program.  Lastly, other EBPs require annual license fees to continue to use the program and receive program support. Given how the pandemic has interrupted in-person instruction and disrupted educational and other systems, purchasing a license or warehousing program materials might be paying for something you can't use in the foreseeable future.    

        5. Demands for collecting data to assess program fidelity and efficacy. 

          Implementers or providers of EBPs are frequently required to collect data to ensure the program is being implemented with fidelity and achieving needed outcomes.  These data collection requirements can sometimes add up to many hours of staff time not only for data collection, but also data entry and analysis.  In some cases, EBPs even require long-term follow-up data collections with participating youth or parents. Long-term follow-up data collections of months or years has been made even more difficult since the pandemic has interrupted access to youth and young adults over time.

          While the above identified factors make implementing most substance use prevention EBPs a challenge, not all EBPs pose the same degree of challenges. 

          EBPs provided by Prevention Plus Wellness (PPW), including SPORT Prevention Plus Wellness for youth and InShape Prevention Plus Wellness for young adults were designed to overcome the aforementioned challenges even before Covid-19.  Since the pandemic, PPW programs and training remain feasible and flexible substance use prevention options for professionals and organizations even during Covid-19.     

          First, both the SPORT and InShape PPW programs, as well as the evidence-informed Marijuana, Vaping (E-Cigarette) and Opioid PPW programs, are just a single-session in length.  That's because all PPW programs use an evidence-based practices screening and brief intervention format. This makes them practical even in the most time-strapped and challenged organizations and settings, including schools, health clinics, youth groups, etc.  Even Parent PPW Programs are just one-session in length, making them practical alternatives to lengthier prevention programs.  In addition, most PPW programs can also be easily provided virtually due to built-in program slides allowing online participation.

          Second, Prevention Plus Wellness offers not just in-person training for program implementers, but also self-paced and interactive online training, as well as live online sessions for training of trainers (TOT).  Furthermore, online PPW Program Implementer and TOT courses can be completed in just a couple of hours. This is because all PPW programs use manualized scripts reducing training demands.  In addition, online training eliminates travel costs and risks associated with in-person training during a pandemic.  

          Third, Prevention Plus Wellness programs are more interesting and marketable to youth, parents, providers, organizations and communities because they promote broader physical and mental health of youth and young adults than typical substance use prevention programs.  PPW programs not only prevent and reduce substance use, they are also designed to increase protective wellness habits like physical activity and sports, healthy nutrition, sleep and stress control among participating young people. The positive behavior focus and the integration of multiple health risks youth commonly experience makes PPW programs highly desirable and enjoyable for participating youth and young adults.  They are also more time and cost-effective and therefore more feasible during a pandemic.  

          Fourth, Prevention Plus Wellness programs involve no additional costs beyond the initial program purchase.  That is because each PPW program comes with a digital download of reproducible program materials which eliminates the need for buying more program implementation and evaluation materials.  In addition, we provide free program implementation and evaluation services throughout the use of your program. 

          Fifth, the demands for data collection to assess program fidelity and effectiveness are minimal with Prevention Plus Wellness programs.  In fact, all PPW programs come with pretest and posttest surveys that can be implemented immediately before and after implementing the program making data collection easy and eliminating follow-up data collection demands.  In addition, PPW offers online surveys which get rid of data entry challenges and improve the accuracy of data collected.   

          In conclusion, EBPs provide the best chance of ensuring your substance use prevention efforts will result in positive outcomes for your youth, families and communities.  The main decision is to choose an EBP that is also cost-effective and practical for your setting, youth and parents, even during the current Covid-19 pandemic.

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