Student Well-Being

School Drug-Prevention Programs Found To Come Up Short

By Joetta L. Sack — March 05, 1997 4 min read


School drug-abuse-prevention programs are not extensive or consistent enough to do much good, says a five-year, Department of Education-commissioned study released last week.

Most schools don’t have the time, resources, or leadership to effectively run such programs, according to the study’s authors at the Research Triangle Institute in Research Triangle Park, N.C. Even programs that research shows are a success aren’t proving to keep many students away from drugs, the new study found.

“None of the programs approached the comprehensiveness or extensiveness of those found by other researchers, in controlled situations, to be effective in preventing alcohol and other drug use among youth,” the researchers write.

The national average allocation of about $10 per student--which includes federal, state, and local money--is not enough to pay for effective anti-drug programs, the researchers say.

In addition, schools are not using appropriate programs to fit their individual needs, said Val Plisko, who works in the Education Department’s elementary and secondary programs division and coordinated the report for the department. “Districts are not using research-based approaches and are not designing around programs that work to meet their needs.”

But even student success in more extensive and consistent programs was not significantly higher, the study found.

“Although some programs had a positive impact, the effects were small, and implementation was a problem,” Ms. Plisko said.

The study surveyed about 10,000 students from 18 districts each year over five years. And researchers visited nine selected pairs of school districts across the country once a year for four years to review classroom materials and conduct interviews with staff members.

Also last week, retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the White House drug czar, called for the federal government to put more emphasis on educating children about the dangers of drugs. President Clinton has asked for $16 billion for anti-drug programs in his fiscal 1998 budget, an increase of more than $800 million from this year’s funding.

Reaching the Local Level

Teachers also must receive enough training and resources to carry out those programs that work, the report advises.

“Teachers and counselors simply did not have enough time, support, training, and motivation to provide all the instruction or other services and activities they planned to provide,” the report says.

Many teachers involved in the study complained that they were given conflicting signals about the priority of anti-drug programs, and many felt they did not know the materials well enough. Some teachers saw drug education as “just one more thing to add to an already full day,” the report says.

Other problems cited in the report are a lack of leadership and monitoring by overburdened program coordinators, a lack of awareness of programs, the attitude of community members who do not believe there are drug problems, and competition from other school priorities, such as academic studies and site-based management, that overshadow drug programs.

“We need to do a better job at the local level,” using more programs based on sound research and evaluations, said William Modzeleski, the director of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Program, the department’s $558 million anti-drug effort.

Mr. Modzeleski advised school officials to take an objective look at their schools’ problems, then set goals and find programs that effectively address the problems. A school or district also should periodically evaluate its programs, he added.

Student Drug Use

Students who took part in anti-drug programs reported similar rates of drug use as those who were not in such programs. Alcohol was the most common substance used and also was what most students tried before moving to drugs such as marijuana.

The most successful programs were those that teach children how to resist and deal with social pressures to use drugs. But those programs were rarely used, possibly because of the higher costs for teacher training and staff time, according to the report.

Intervention programs must reach communities, not just schools, the report says.

Ms. Plisko said that an executive summary of the report had been sent to Congress and that the full report will be released later this month.

A separate report released last week concludes that the federal government is misguided in its approach to quelling the flow of drugs into the country.

An independent task force of the New York City-based Council on Foreign Relations, a respected nonprofit organization that works to improve understanding of international affairs, says the government should shift its focus away from reducing foreign drug supplies. Instead, the panel says, resources should be concentrated on reducing domestic demand for drugs--including an expansion of education efforts. It also recommends the use of programs that focus on the social pressures facing students.

For More Information:

Copies of the executive summary of “School-Based Drug Prevention Programs: A Longitudinal Study in Selected School Districts’’ are available from the Planning and Evaluation Service, U.S. Department of Education, 600 Independence Ave. S.W., Room 4162, Washington, D.C. 20202-8240; (202) 401-0590. The full report will be available within weeks at the department’s World Wide Web site:

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