Disrupting to Address the Gap in Drug Prevention

I am pleased to be a presenter at the Federal Employees Opioid Addiction Training on June 20th in Pittsburgh to inform on the Reality Tour Parent/Child Drug Prevention Program.  So often the prevention aspect is overlooked on this topic. Thanks to Tamara Ivosevic Perconte, Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Federal Executive Board for extending the invitation after hearing our introduction at the FBI’s Heroin Outreach Prevention & Education meeting.

The gap in prevention is broad and is not going to close anytime soon. Has it seemed odd to you that while we are in the midst of an opioid epidemic and substance abuse epidemic in general – there’s no education offered for the masses to provide avoidance skills and coping measures?

It’s a Catch-22 largely created by researchers who have ‘concretely’ developed what works – except that it doesn’t.  Most accepted research is conducted at universities. Typically the interventions developed are for small numbers of people who can be easily tracked for a long period of time. That is how decades of robust but sometimes misleading, outcomes can be achieved. While this method is proof of what works to gain favorable outcomes, programs have failed to translate into prevention with any impact for the masses.

Consider that in Pennsylvania the state’s approved approach for family drug prevention is limited to a program that is 30 years old, requires parent and child to attend 7 weekly sessions and isn’t focused on drug use. Add the fact that it is available to just 15 families in 11 locations at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars for each location. To include the 1.1 million middle school families in the state and apply an average pro rata share of the funds now being spent – we would owe each family about $1500 in drug prevention education!

In developing a program to reach the masses (over 35k in Pennsylvania) and enduring the research necessary to have that program, Reality Tour, be recognized by the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices, Reality Tour disrupted what is ‘supposed to work’ and suddenly thousands of families were being educated on coping skills and youth’s perception of risk and harm increased toward drugs. (Interestingly the $15,000 spent on getting to evidence-based status expired quickly as new requirements were imposed within less than a year. The price tag is about $60-$70,000 to fulfill the required survey of people who didn’t attend the program.).

While Reality Tour is 15 years old, it is updated every two years to keep current with drug trends. Replications are spread among 6 states and Canada. The synergy of educating parent and child together has not been studied in prevention but it has an obvious appeal to the general public as demonstrated by thousands of families attending. As one researcher stated, the best programs are the ones reaching the greatest number of people.

It would be beneficial to all to consider human behavior along with contemporary drug trends and avoid rigid rules predicated on small captive audience responses tied to an era before the internet and cell phones.

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