Prevention & Support

Drug Education Programs

By Officer Kirk Buchanan, Los Angeles Police Department

The fact that in 2011 drug education programs are still growing is testament to the fact that even though illegal drug usage has fallen slightly among teenagers, drug addiction is still a major problem in the United States. Surprisingly, what is replacing illegal drug usage is prescription drug use. Hence, the call for drug education programs is growing more critical. The need to educate before addiction even gets started is the way to decrease the majority of the use of illegal or illicit substances.

Understanding Drug Addiction

Psychologists are beginning to understand how the brain reacts to drug addiction, and how it affects behavior. There are identified biological and environmental factors that can affect the development of drug addiction, and often contribute to the progression of the addiction. Drug addiction is classified as a disease, like alcoholism, since it has been determined to be linked to brain behaviors.

Though it is not clearly understood how or why a person can become addicted to drugs, there is a clear link that drug use changes the brain, which can lead to abuse. It is this understanding that will help lead to effective drug education and drug treatment programs that will be effective. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, understanding the basis of addiction will help individuals to become empowered and take control of their lives and make informed choices. It will also lead to communities adopting science-based drug education programs that can reduce drug addiction.

Effects of Drug Addiction on Communities

The most damaging effect of addictions to illegal substances is the half a trillion dollars that are spent each year on the medical, criminal, social, and economic impact of the social problem. Annually, the abuse of illicit drugs kills more than 100,000 people. These statistics devastate communities and families.

Babies who are exposed in-vitro to drugs may be underweight when born, or be born prematurely. In-vitro drug exposure can be linked to lowering the child's development intellectually and physically. Adolescents abusing drugs are more likely to drop out of school or engage in criminal behaviors, violence, early pregnancies, and contract sexually transmitted diseases through unprotected intercourse.

Adults addicted to drugs lose jobs, families, homes, and personal relationships. They are more likely to engage in crime and/or violent behaviors. They often fall into desperate situations and lose their support and control over their lives. If they are parents, then the whole family is affected by the stress and chaos in the home. This break-down in the home and family structure leads to barren communities left without much hope.

Newest Drug Trends

Crystal methamphetamine is a drug problem that is growing and sweeping across the country. Research studies show that nearly ten million people have tried crystal meth at least one time. Most users are teenagers and young adults living in the Midwestern part of the United States, accounting for up a substantial percentage of all users.

The problem with crystal methamphetamine is that it causes death. Deaths of young adults from crystal meth are higher than from overdoses of cocaine. And now statistics show that it is a major factor in many car accident cases. The psychological addiction is powerful because it produces a feeling of happiness and pleasure, feelings that are often missing in the increasingly isolated and lonely lives of teens and young adults.

Crystal meth is insidious in the way it tears down the addict emotionally and personally. It gives the feeling of the ability to cope with problems, which is why it becomes so overpowering. The addiction becomes the way of dealing with life for the user, making the need for the drug more than just a physical one, but a more crippling emotional one. The addict's life becomes consumed with the substance.

Drug Treatment Programs

Drug treatment programs have evolved from the scared-straight programs of the early 1980s to a more evidence-based program that focus on prevention first, then treating the emotional, social, and physical reasons for addiction. Programs range from community-based to residential treatment facilities. While treatment focuses on de-toxification and education, the rate of recidivism still remains in the 90th percentile, which highlights the strong pull an addiction has on the brain.

Drug Education Programs

Most educators, social workers, parents, and law enforcement personnel support education as an effective deterrent to fight drug addiction. Young children should be exposed to messages of avoiding drugs as a way to "fit in", solve problems, or escape from unhappy situations. Peer pressure is often difficult for young children and teenagers to fight. Yet a healthy outlook on life along with positive feelings about oneself helps the child fight the pressure to do what others around them are doing.

One drug education program that has been around for quite a while is the D.A.R.E. program, a non-profit national and international organization. The program uses law enforcement officers to educate in schools and communities about the negative consequences of using drugs. There are programs, videos, curriculums, and instructional guides for educators and community workers to use. Officers teaching the program go through a rigorous training program in child development, classroom management, teaching, and communication techniques.

Many other programs have used this model to educate on the dangers of drugs. Programs focus on the mental and social effects of drugs along with the physical. The instruction can be very hands-on and practical in message and delivery. Like the scared-straight program, real life situations are used to illustrate the hideous dangers of drugs. Education will focus on the child, teenager, or young adult coming to the decision not to use drugs on their own while reinforcing saying no and how to say no in situations where peer pressure exists.

A good drug education program needs to delve into the underlying cause of drug use. Boredom, the feeling of isolation from family, school pressures, and lack of communication with loved ones all can lead a vulnerable person to drugs. Teaching individuals how to cope, how to reach out for help, and how to express painful emotions will assist them in avoiding the traps of substance abuse. Teenagers today have pressures like no other generation, and often it is hard for caregivers and family to understand their emotional pain. Drug education programs that talk about how the feeling of "getting high" is only temporary versus the long-term feeling of positive self-esteem will help teenagers avoid addiction.

The University of Michigan's recent survey on teen drug abuse revealed that even though the exposure to anti-drug education is not as prevalent through the media, between 2003 and today most of the 46,000 teens participating in the survey agreed that the anti-drug education commercials made them less favorable towards drugs. Anti-drug messages do have an impact.

Early use of drugs leads to increased risk of drug addiction. Drug education programs aimed at young teenagers who are at the highest risk of participating in potentially damaging behaviors can effectively provide them with the skills and tools necessary to resist the temptation to experiment with drugs. Teachers, parents, and community workers can effectively influence a young person's perception about, and vulnerability to, drugs. If drugs are perceived as harmful, drug use will decrease. Drug education programs focusing on the harmful effects of drugs can shape a young person's perception and prevent them from engaging in harmful behaviors. As with most things, education is the key to positive outcomes.

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