Prevention in the Midst of a Drug Abuse Epidemic?

Chronology of PA DDAP Reality Tour issues

We are more than a decade of descent into the current epidemic of drug abuse and those that we counted on to give us, yet nothing has changed in drug prevention in what ‘science’ is handing down. I had two misconceptions when I entered the realm of prevention:

  1. We are all in this together.
  2. The “experts” were working on something new and innovative.

Lesson #1 was learned very quickly in a flurry of emails from professors wanting the research behind Reality Tour. This was when the program was brand new. I explained what we did and that parents were bringing their children and had a positive response. Then I extended the offer to collaborate. The responses were immediately dismissive. Just because people had a positive response and there was a waiting list to attend Reality Tour did not make it a ‘program’.

So, I thought the experts were right and set out to get certified as a Prevention Specialist. The next step was to participate in a research study. The advice given by those critical professors was good even though it did not offer collaboration. Luckily, I have been privileged to work with researchers who did not bring a bias into our study. I have friendships with some of the most respected researchers in the nation, who recognize there is room for innovation.

Lesson #2 was learned more recently. Old, conventional research still shows that parents cannot be reached with a prevention message unless they attend 7 sessions over 7 weeks. So much for the wait for prevention that reaches parents in this epidemic. A maximum of 15 families can attend at a time. That will take decades to reach the current 1.1 million Pennsylvania families of middle school students! While research is meticulous…there is a ‘statistical forgiveness’ in that it is actually okay to attend just half of the sessions (3.5?), the data will still count as one more family ‘protected’. This is the approach for Pennsylvania’s epidemic and it HAS BEEN the approach for many years. How’s that working out for us? Thankfully, because of recent events targeting Reality Tour, those questions are being asked. Nothing, that I can find, shows prevention developed to impact an epidemic. We are left with the same old, same old if we rely solely on existing science.

If you are a PA resident, please ask your legislator if reaching 15 families at a time (in about a dozen locations) is a prevention strategy for an epidemic. If you live in another state, you may very well live in one of 30 states that are using this same outdated thinking. We must challenge the system to change it.

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