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Blogs / ICMA | blog / Opioid Epidemic Blog Series Part 1: Lay the Foundation for a Successful Drug Abuse Prevention Plan

Opioid Epidemic Blog Series Part 1: Lay the Foundation for a Successful Drug Abuse Prevention Plan

Our five-part opioid epidemic blog series will offer communities best practices on applying prevention principles, assessing needs and community readiness, motivating the community to take action, and evaluating the impact of programs implemented. Join us every day this week to learn how communities can implement research-based prevention programs.

Part 1: Lay the Foundation for a Successful Drug Abuse Prevention Plan



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How can your community develop a plan for research-based prevention?

The New York Times reports that in 2014, nationally, 125 people a day died from drug overdoses, 78 of them from heroin and painkillers, otherwise known as opioids. To help combat this epidemic, some communities are implementing research-based prevention programs that address all forms of drug abuse, alone or in combination, including the underage use of legal drugs (e.g., tobacco or alcohol); the use of illegal drugs (e.g.; marijuana or heroin); and the inappropriate use of legally obtained substances (e.g.; inhalants), prescription medications, or over-the-counter drugs.

Prevention research suggests that a well-constructed community plan incorporates the following characteristics:

  • Identifies the specific drugs and other child and adolescent problems in a community;
  • Builds on existing resources (e.g., current drug abuse prevention programs);
  • Develops short-term goals relevant to implementation of research-based prevention programs;
  • Projects long-term objectives so that plans and resources are available for the future; and
  • Incorporates ongoing assessments to evaluate the effectiveness of prevention strategies.

Planning Process

Planning usually starts with an assessment of drug abuse and other child and adolescent problems, which includes measuring the level of substance abuse in the community as well as examining the level of other community risk factors (e.g., poverty). The results of the assessment can be used to raise community awareness of the nature and seriousness of the problem and guide the selection of programs most relevant to the community’s needs. This is an important process, whether a community is selecting a school-based prevention curriculum or planning multiple interventions that cut across the entire community.

Next, an assessment of the community’s readiness for prevention can help determine additional steps that are needed to educate the community before beginning the prevention effort. Then, a review of existing programs is needed to determine gaps in addressing community needs and identifying additional resources.

Finally, community planning can benefit from contributions of community organizations that provide services to youth. Convening a meeting of leaders of youth-serving organizations can aid in coordinating ideas, resources, and expertise to help implement and sustain research-based programs. Planning for implementation and sustainability requires resource development for staffing and management, long-term funding commitments, and linkages with existing delivery systems.

How can the community use the prevention principles in prevention planning?

Prevention principles have emerged from research studies funded by NDIA on the origins of drug abuse behaviors and the common elements found in research on effective prevention programs. Several prevention principles provide a framework for effective prevention planning and programming by presenting key concepts in implementing research-based prevention. Consider, for example, Principle 3: “Prevention programs should address the type of drug abuse problem in the local community, target modifiable risk factors, and strengthen identified protective factors.” This principle describes how the plan should reflect the reality of the drug problem in that community and, importantly, what needs to be done to address it.

Community-wide efforts also can be guided by Principle 9: “Prevention programs aimed at general populations at key transition points . . . can produce beneficial effects, even among high-risk families and children.” With carefully structured programs, the community can provide services to all populations, including those at high risk, without labeling or stigmatizing them.

In implementing a more specific program, such as a family program within the educational system, the principles address some of the required content areas. For instance, Principle 5 states, “Family-based prevention programs should enhance family bonding and relationships and include parenting skills; practice in developing, discussing, and enforcing family policies on substance abuse; and training in drug education and information.”

The principles offer guidance for selecting or adapting effective programs that meet specific community needs. It is important to recognize, however, that not every program that seems consistent with these research-based prevention principles is necessarily effective. To be effective, programs need to incorporate the core elements identified in research. These include appropriate structure and content, adequate resources for training and materials, and other implementation requirements. 

Join us tomorrow for part two on how communities can assess the level of risk for drug abuse and don't forget to register for NACo's virtual town hall series on the local response to the opioid crisis.

*Content from this blog post has been extracted from the National Institute on Drug Abuse Preventing Drug Use among Children and Adolescents: A Research-Based Guide for Parents, Educators, and Community Leaders; 2nd Edition.

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