Do's and Don'ts of Prevention


While there are many evidence-based prevention interventions, too often the programs that are being implemented in our communities are not backed by science.


When working to prevent substance use and SUD in your communities...


  • ✓ DO promote evidence-based prevention programs in schools and other community settings for youth and families.
    • Evaluate current prevention programs to ensure that they follow evidence-based principles. Drug education is not the same as prevention.

    • Support local community coalitions to implement evidence-based prevention programs that address the most urgent needs and target at-risk populations in your community.

  • ✓ DO promote environmental prevention strategies.
    • Environmental strategies change the conditions within a community, including physical, social or cultural factors that may lead to substance use.

    • Seek to influence community norms by raising awareness and creating community support for prevention activities and programs.

    • Support the use of compliance checks and other efforts to determine if people are complying with existing laws around legal substances.

  • ✓ DO screen for trauma and adverse childhood experiences and provide needed programming for those whose histories increase their risk of developing a substance use disorder.
  • ✓ DO adopt statewide policies on preventing prescription drug misuse including education, tracking and monitoring, and proper medication disposal.
    • Education can increase public awareness of the risks of prescription drug misuse. Provider education is critical to reducing the overprescribing of addictive prescription medications. However, it is important to ensure access to these medications for patients with a legitimate medical need.

    • Use of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMP) can improve patient safety by allowing prescribers to see a patient’s complete history of prescriptions for controlled medications to guide their prescribing decisions.

    • Disposing of medications properly ensures that controlled substances in the home are not intentionally or accidentally misused and reduces the risks of addiction.

  • ✘ DON’T use school assemblies to approach students about substance misuse.
    Understanding that a behavior can be harmful does not stop always people from doing it. While it is important to educate children in an honest and accurate way about the risks of alcohol and drugs, education is not the same as prevention. The most effective prevention programs focus on building skills among youth and youth influencers—parents, teachers, community leaders—to help reduce risk factors, strengthen protective factors and increase their resilience.
  • ✘ DON’T use scare tactics, especially with adolescents.
    According to the Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, “Historically, the prevention programs that have been developed and broadly disseminated are fear-based and promote complete abstinence from all illicit substances. These “scared straight” programs rely on the theory that making young people afraid—of the law, of causing harm to themselves or others, of ruining their lives—will keep them from experimenting. But extensive research has shown that these programs do not work, and some studies suggest that certain fear-based tactics actually increase the likelihood of early substance use.”
  • ✘ DON’T implement programs without empirical support.
    It is not always easy to predict the effects of new programs or policies. Often, when the effects are measured we find that they do not align with what was expected based on “common sense.” Interventions may also have unintended negative consequences. Many well-intentioned prevention programs and policies have been shown to be ineffective or even cause harm. It is important to invest the limited resources available in programs and policies that have been shown to improve outcomes for children, families, and communities.