Implement evidence-based prevention interventions.
Schools represent one of the most effective channels for influencing youth substance use. Many highly effective evidence-based programs are available that provide a strong return on investment, both in the well-being of the children they reach and in reducing long-term societal costs. Prevention programs for adolescents should target improving academic as well as social and emotional learning to address risk factors for substance misuse, such as early aggression, academic failure, and school dropout. When combined with family-based and community programs that present consistent messages, these programs are even more powerful. Interventions that target youth who have already initiated use of alcohol or drugs should also be implemented to prevent escalation of use. Colleges, too, should implement EBIs to reduce student alcohol misuse.
Provide treatment and recovery supports.
Many students lack regular access to the health care system. For students with substance use problems, schools—ranging from primary school through university—can provide an entry into treatment and support for ongoing recovery. School counselors and school health care programs can provide enrolled students with screening, brief counseling, and referral to more comprehensive treatment services. Schools can also help create a supportive environment that fosters recovery. Many institutions of higher learning incorporate collegiate recovery programs that can make a profound difference for young people trying to maintain recovery in an environment with high rates of substance misuse.
Teach accurate, up-to-date scientific information about alcohol and drugs and about substance use disorders as medical conditions.
Teachers, professors, and school counselors play an obvious and central role as youth influencers, teaching students about the health consequences of substance use and misuse and about substance use disorders as medical conditions, as well as facilitating open dialogue. They can also play an active role in educating parents and community members on these topics and the role they can play in preventing youth substance use. For example, they can educate businesses near schools about the positive impact of strong enforcement of underage drinking laws and about the potential harms of synthetic drugs (such as K2 and bath salts), to discourage their sale. They can also promote non-shaming language that underscores the medical nature of addiction—for instance avoiding terms like “abuser” or “addict” when describing people with substance use disorders.21
Enhance training of health care professionals.
As substance use treatment becomes more integrated with the health care delivery system, there is a need for advanced education and training for providers in all health care roles and disciplines, including primary care doctors, nurses, specialty treatment providers, and prevention and recovery specialists. It is essential that professional schools of social work, psychology, public health, nursing, medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy incorporate curricula that reflect the current science of prevention, treatment, and recovery. Health care professionals must also be alert for the possibility of adverse drug reactions (e.g., co-prescribing of drugs with similar effects, drug overdoses), and co-occurring psychiatric conditions and infectious diseases, and should be trained on how to address these issues. These topics should also be covered in formal post-graduate training programs (e.g., physician residencies and psychology internships) as well as in board certification and continuing education requirements for professionals in these fields. Continuing education should include not only subject matter knowledge but the professional skills necessary to provide integrated care within cross-disciplinary health care teams that address substance-related health issues.
21. Kelly, J. F., Saitz, R., & Wakeman, S. (2016). Language, substance use disorders, and policy: The need to reach consensus on an “addiction-ary”. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 34(1), 116-123.