A New Drug Education Approach

Drug Education: The OD Project

This post is taken from an email being sent to school principles to introduce them to our proposed drug education curriculum and extend an invitation for them to be a part of the pilot project.  Please message any suggestions you might have on the project to us!

I. The Need for Change:

America has a drug problem, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 21.5 million American adults (aged 12 and older) battled a substance use disorder in 2014.  It is a complex problem with no obvious solution. Furthermore it seems as though the nation is always one step behind the next big drug crisis, particularly in relation to drug education.  

The crack epidemic of the early 1980s appeared to be winding down in the mid 1990s. This is when the opioid epidemic got its start. While substances change the reality is America has had a drug problem for almost 40 years. In 2017 our President declared the crisis a public health emergency.  A recent report estimates the cost of the opioid epidemic to have exceeded one trillion dollars between 2001 and 2017. Furthermore, it projects to cost another $500 billion by 2020.

Although improvements made nationwide regarding teen use Michigan is behind.  A recent report ranked our state fourth highest for drug use behind Washington, D.C., Missouri and New Hampshire. Despite the positive shift and best efforts of past initiatives, the DARE project in particular, US teens are still twice as likely as their European counterparts to use illicit drugs.

Today’s youth face a level of scrutiny like we’ve never seen before. Values and ideas are influenced by several different forces including media, music, friends, and movies. Oftentimes, these influences contrast the norms and values being taught at home and in school.

II. OD Ascension Project Introduction

Substance abuse is a reality in American culture and we want to change this to the best of our ability.  For over a year I have dedicated countless hours engaging in an open discussion with the people impacted by addiction.  I have interviewed numerous addicts, families with addicted relatives, nonprofit agencies, and mental health and healthcare professionals to gain a better understanding into the “why behind drug abuse.  

In other words, after countless hours of interviews and research, along with the help of volunteers, I have designed a revolutionary, common sense approach to drug education.  We offer an entirely new form of curriculum developed by people who have experienced first hand the horrors of substance abuse. Welcome to the pilot proposal for the Open Discussion (OD) Ascension Project.  

Numerous studies have shown Project D.A.R.E.- first implemented in 1983- to not just be ineffective, but counter effective at times.  One such study, published in the American Journal of Public Health by Steven L. West PhD and Keri K. O’Neal PhD titled Project D.A.R.E. Outcome Effectiveness Revisited support this claim.  No matter how well intended present day drug prevention education is in the United States it has proven unsuccessful. As evident in the rising number of overdose fatalities, the increasing number of recreational drug users, and the rise in narcotic prescriptions over the last twenty years.

Our Plan

The central objective of the OD Ascension Project is to provide children with a better understanding of addiction, the risks associated with substance abuse, and the proper techniques for maintaining a healthy well balanced life.  What sets this program apart from those currently implemented is our primary focus is on life skills, addiction, practical education, and proper risk assessment as a means for prevention rather than drug abuse, propaganda, and fear based abstinence.

Made up of a formal, nine-week long curriculum, OD’s Ascension Project is more comprehensive. We propose a practical approach aimed at a different age group.  Our project focuses special attention on students in middle school exit grades, who may or may not have yet been exposed to “gateway” drugs. In addition, students are less likely to have been placed in an environment where drugs are commonplace like high school. Therefore making it more likely they’re open to practical education on substances.

We’ve designed the OD Ascension Project to give facts to young people on substances, drug abuse, and addiction to equip them with a practical understanding of the risks associated with drugs and alcohol use. Inspired by the far more successful Unplugged: European Union Drug Abuse Prevention program, modeled similarly Project DARE, and shaped by those who have struggled this innovative lifestyle based education program has several noteworthy features:

Features of OD

  • OD targets junior high school students AND their parents.  A consensus among those who weighed in stated elementary school is too early, as they unable to properly understand the curriculum.  Junior high affords the opportunity to reach students at a time when they are able to grasp the material, but before they are regularly introduced to substances.
  • We believe that one of our greatest assets with the Ascension Project is the opportunity to share perspectives.  Each module begins with a guest speaker sharing their thoughts on substance abuse. A wide range of speakers join discussions consisting of health professionals, addicts, family members of addicts, to police officers.
  • The OD Ascension Project is based on life skills education and social influences approach. The program goals are: Increased health related awareness and knowledge of social influences; discourage drug use; improve knowledge, attitudes and skills concerning health and drug use; reduction in the use of substances.

III. Why School Prevention is Important & The Life Skills Approach

There are three reasons why schools are ideal settings for alcohol, drug, and tobacco education: range, scope, and overlap. Chiefly, schools offer the most structured and effective way to reach the largest number of students each year.  Next, teaching schools allow youth to be targeted before drugs are present and beliefs are established. Lastly, school and extracurricular activities can themselves be part of the preventative approach. As there is a link between school performance and a lower probability of drug use.

The life skills approach uses a concept model centered around building skill sets and blends theoretical methods based on several related areas of study. The model includes facts and knowledge on substances as well as methods to improve decision making, problem solving, creative thinking, critical thinking, effective communication, interpersonal relationship skills, self-awareness, empathy, coping with emotions, and coping with stress.

Techniques for effective life skill health education programs should center around interactive and participatory teaching methods.  In addition these methods appear to have an impact on the reduction of risky behaviors and contribute to healthy development.  Participation based approaches afford adolescents the chance to listen to, and learn from, both the instructor and one another. The model also allows for a number of engaging learning styles.  Some techniques frequently used in teaching life skills include: brainstorming, role play, educational games, story-telling, debates, and group work and discussions.

IV. Models and Components of Effective Drug Education

Traditional approaches to drug education and prevention have followed the knowledge model, affective model, and the social influence model.  These approaches have shown varying degrees of success, although mostly limited. The knowledge model assumes that information about drugs, the riskiness of destructive behavior, the consequences of their use, and their effects both socially and psychologically would adequately serve to deter use.  The method intends to evoke fear and has shown limited to no effect. At the other end of the spectrum, is the affective model offers drug education. In this model information makes up a very small part of the curriculum. It assumes drug abuse can be attributed to factors like low self-esteem, irrational decision-making, and an inability to express feelings or emotions.

The social influence model centers around the assumption that behaviors are the byproduct of positive or negative influences.  Drug education programs designed under this model focus on trainings to resist peer pressure and increasing awareness against mass media. There are conceptual similarities between our proposed model and the social influence model. Both recognize use as a commonly exhibited behavior.  

The Life Skills Model

The life skills model prioritizes a balanced development of intra and interpersonal skills. It offers a broader scope by developing positive peer influences instead of demonizing users and it attempts to create a consolidated effort between community (law enforcement, non profit organizations, parents, and relevantly impacted citizens) and school groups (teachers, tutors, counselors, and board members). Above all believe prevention and education is the collective responsibility of not just the school but the community.

A characteristic employed in our program, independent of the underlying theoretical model, is an interactive curriculum.  A more interactive curriculum been a common theme among those who have discussed a proposed education plan with Open Discussion. Furthermore these models have also shown to be more effective than non-interactive programs in preventing substance use in adolescents.  In conclusion interactive programs focus on sharing information and developing skills.

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