A new article published in the International Journal of Drug Policy (2022) by Harry Sumnall (Public Health Institute, Liverpool John Moors University) provides commentary on the impacts of drug prevention on achieving the recently proposed 10-year Drug Strategy in the UK.
The article discusses the following four topics:
- Drug use is increasing, but it’s unclear as to why;
- There are no effective population-level drug prevention efforts;
- Prevention infrastructure and systems are weak and require significant rebuilding; and
- Innovation is welcomed, but we shouldn’t ignore what we already know about what works and what doesn’t in prevention.
The author highlighted the specific role of prevention in achieving the larger drug strategy in the UK (and I would add in other countries as well) as the following:
“…reviews of behaviour change interventions highlight that rather than punishment, effective approaches create enabling environments that motivate people to make changes, include activities that develop skills and build self-efficacy in relation to the recommended action, support opportunities for change, and include communication frames that highlight the gains in adopting the recommended behaviour rather than the losses incurred if not doing so…”
In other words, prevention programs and campaigns that are viewed by youth, parents and communities as positive, empowering, and resulting in self-efficacy such as by emphasizing the benefits from adopting a range of healthy lifestyle behaviors, addressing naturally motivating desired self-identities, and developing skills to set and achieve positive behavior gains in one’s life are more likely to effectively prevent substance use and violence than punitive or risk-based communication.
The author concludes that prevention interventions and campaigns must consider prevention within the wider system of health and wellbeing.
At one level, this means prevention must address broader positive youth development issues by promoting youth assets, including healthy habits leading to improved mental and physical health, positive self-identities, and goal setting skills and self-efficacy to motivate and achieve multiple behavior change.