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Safe and Drug-Free Schools: Promising Prevention Practices

Prevention Principles

In the past, it has been common practice by many school communities to use a "one-shot" approach to prevention. Mock car crashes, scare-tactic videos, large assemblies of students listening to an addict in recovery, or a parent who lost a loved one in an alcohol related crash or drowning were common "prevention efforts" across the state. Unfortunately, these efforts were not effective in changing attitudes and behaviors. 

It is important that schools implement programs, practices, and policies that are proven effective in protecting students from engaging in risk behaviors such as substance abuse. Determining the best prevention approach for your school and/or community begins with good data. 

The Nebraska Risk Protective Factor Student Survey has been conducted in 2003, 2005, and 2007 with over 25,000 students participating across the state. In addition, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey provides statewide data on risk behaviors by students. Both surveys provide helpful data to guide schools and communities in selecting the best practice, program, or policy to be implemented locally. Links to the results of these surveys are available on the Prevalence of Use page of this website.

According to preliminary results from a Join Together survey, few teachers believe the alcohol and other drug prevention programs delivered in school have an impact on student behavior or knowledge, and they want more training and support in order to speak effectively to kids about substance abuse. The report is available at:

Prevention Education in America's Schools: Findings and Recommendations from a Survey

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) National Strategic Prevention Framework outlines five steps to address risk behaviors such as substance abuse. Federal guidelines encourage the assessment, capacity, planning, implementation, and evaluation process through a community coalition. Schools are encouraged to take active leadership in their local community coalition.

SAMHSA has developed a National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP), a searchable database of interventions for the prevention and treatment of mental and substance use disorders.

A Summary of Strategies for School-based Substance Abuse Prevention

Schools can use a variety of strategies to prevent student substance use/abuse. There are key components necessary to ensure these prevention strategies are truly effective. The following is a summary of proven strategies that work: 

  • Teach and reinforce social and thinking skills for ALL students.

  • Identify students and families that are possibly at-risk for substance use or violent behavior and provide or refer them to appropriate therapeutic services.

  • Provide safe and supervised alternative activities such as mentoring.

  • Involve a variety of people such as school staff, parents, students, and communities in designing and delivering school and community based prevention strategies.

  • Create and enforce school policies with clear cut expectations of behaviors and consequences.

  • Use media and educational campaigns to influence attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors on substance use in your school and community.

  • Promote student engagement.

  • Create community policies that control and regulate the availability of alcohol, tobacco, other drug and weapons on access and use: Example: increasing alcohol/tobacco tax; pass social host laws; limit alcohol promotion at community events, increase the number of public places that do not allow tobacco use.

  • Create positive community attitudes that do not allow underage drinking or the use of tobacco by youth.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, (2000). Key School-Linked Strategies and Principles for Preventing Substance Abuse and Violence.$FILE/Topic3-Strategy.doc

For further resources visit: 

Evidence-Based Principles for Substance Abuse Prevention
The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) discusses 15 science-based Principles of Prevention drawn from work by the U.S. Departments of Education, Justice and HHS.

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