Start Early: In a review of various substance abuse prevention programs, epidemiologist Melissa Stigler of the University of Texas School of Public Health and her colleagues concluded that programs that unfold during many sessions—ideally, over several years—provide especially strong results, likely because of the fact that they provide students with lessons that are reinforced over time as children mature and encounter different environments. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most experts agree that education about such issues as alcohol and drug abuse is most effective if it begins at least two years before the behavior is likely to start.
Do More than “Just Say No”: In recent years numerous studies have reported the ineffectiveness of “Just Say No” programs. According to a 2011 article in Scientific American, statisticians conducted a meta-analysis of data and concluded that teens enrolled in ”Just Say No” programs were just as likely to use drugs as were those who received no intervention at all. In an article titled “Why Just Say No Doesn’t Work,” author Scott O. Lilienfeld quotes psychologist Pim Cuijpers of the Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction in Utrecht. “In a review of 30 studies published in 2002, she attempted to pinpoint the common elements of successful programs. Cuijpers reported that the most effective ones involve substantial amounts of interaction between instructors and students.” Prevention and intervention programs that involve interaction between instructors and students, as well as peer interactions, have proved to be the most effective.
Seek an Alternative to Suspension: A study conducted by the University of Washington and published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2015 found that suspensions lead to more marijuana use among teens. According to the study, “Students attending schools with suspension policies for illicit drug use were 1.6 times more likely than their peers at schools without such policies to use marijuana in the next year.” Researchers found one factor that actually did seem to decrease the likelihood of drug use: student-teacher interactions. At some schools, students caught with drugs were sent to their teachers to discuss the consequences of drug use. This was associated with a 50% decrease in the odds of later marijuana use.
Find Funding: In states that have legalized recreational marijuana, marijuana excise tax dollars can be accessed to fund prevention and intervention programs. Schools and communities can find funding sources through various channels. At local and community levels, funding sources such as Parent Teacher Associations or Parent Teacher Alliances can be utilized to fund prevention programs and curricula. Local youth-serving agencies and at-risk support teams offer financial support for prevention efforts. Local and national philanthropic agencies and foundations often offer grants or scholarships for substance abuse prevention and intervention programs. State-level grant funding can be accessed from departments of education and public health, and federal resources such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also make grant funds available.
After working as a criminal and family law paralegal for many years, Sarah decided to follow her passion and pursue a career in education. She returned to college and earned a BA in education with an endorsement in K–12 special education. Sarah later earned additional endorsements in language arts and health. She has worked with special education students in middle school and high school and worked as a general education language arts and health teacher at an alternative high school. Her work at the alternative education campus led Sarah to co-found the Marijuana Education Initiative with Molly Lotz. Together, she and Molly work with specialists and professionals in diverse fields to create unbiased, reality-based marijuana prevention and intervention curricula as well as alternative-to-suspension programming, parent information guides, and online learning modules. Sarah couples her experience in the classroom with her knowledge in youth-specific marijuana prevention efforts to successfully work with educators, communities, legislators, state agencies, and industry leaders across the country to ensure educational practices keep pace with changing norms.