Preventing youth substance misuse: Programs that work in schools

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Schwartz, C., Waddell, C., Barican, J., Yung, D., & Gray-Grant, D. (2018). Preventing youth substance misuse: Programs that work in schools. Children’s Mental Health Research Quarterly, 12(1), 1–16. Vancouver, BC: Children’s Health Policy Centre, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University.

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Background: Substance misuse comes with great costs for individuals and for society, including compromised mental and physical health, loss of productivity, reduced quality of life, increased justice and health care costs, and even premature disability and death. The most effective and humane way to avert these costs is to prevent substance misuse from occurring by intervening early with young people.

Methods: We used systematic review methods to identify randomized control trials (RCTs) evaluating school-based interventions designed to prevent adolescent substance.  Applying our inclusion criteria to the 152 studies identified from our searches, we accepted eight RCTs.

Results: Two programs — Unplugged and Project PATHS — showed success in preventing substance misuse. Unplugged provided youth with information on the effects of substances and taught them skills, including being assertive and resisting peer pressure. Project PATHS focused on positive adolescent development by teaching problem-solving and building family relationships. Both programs were delivered by teachers.

Conclusions: Compelling evidence shows that substance misuse prevention programs can be successfully delivered in schools by school staff. By investing in these programs, it is possible to avert needless suffering.

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