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Drug Education & Prevention Programs in Elementary Schools

by Elise Freeman, studioD

The goal of drug prevention programs is to educate elementary students about the physical, psychological and social dangers of drug and alcohol use and abuse. Some programs aim to alter the behaviors that may result in abuse later in life. Programs such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education, known as DARE, although widely used in the past, have not demonstrated effectiveness over time. Because of the importance of drug education and prevention for this age group, only evidence-based programs should be implemented.

The LifeSkills Training Program

LifeSkills Training was developed by Cornell professor and prevention expert Gilbert Botvin. LifeSkills Training is used nationwide and targets grades three through six. This program is designed to prevent students from using tobacco, illicit drugs and alcohol. The program has five key components: cognitive, self-improvement, decision making, anxiety coping skills and social skills. LifeSkills Training provides students with protective behavioral and self-management skills, such as resisting peer pressure.

LifeSkills Training Effectiveness

This program has demonstrated effectiveness in over 30 studies for educating students on the harmful effects of drug and alcohol abuse, while promoting anti-drug social norms and perspectives. According to a review published in "Prevention Science," LifeSkills Training reduced substance initiation. Further, LifeSkills Training slowed the increase of substance initiation and slowed the decrease of negative expectancies regarding substance use when compared to control groups.

The Positive Action Program

The Positive Action program has been used effectively in elementary schools for over 25 years. This program was developed by Carol Gerber Allred for targeting academics, behavior and character. The Positive Action program is based on theories of self-concept and uses intrinsic motivation to reinforce positive actions. This is represented in the program as the “thoughts-actions-feelings” circle that demonstrates to children that positive thoughts create positive feelings, which in turn lead to positive actions.

The Effectiveness of Positive Action

Positive Action is recommended by the U.S. Department of Education for its positive effects on behavior and academics. Two separate studies published in "Prevention Science" found that Positive Action lowers students' self-reported lifetime use of substances. Another study published in "Psychology & Health" found a 31 percent decrease in substance use behaviors among students who received the intervention.

The Media Detective Program

Media Detective was developed in 2006 by innovation Research and Training and is partially funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This program for third through fifth grade students is designed to prevent substance use through media literacy education. Students are taught to think critically about the media's portrayal of drugs and alcohol. The Media Detective program also teaches students how to deconstruct advertisements, using class discussions, group activities and writing assignments.

Media Detective's Promising Results

A 2010 study published in the "Journal of Media Literacy Education" found a significant difference in students' ability to deconstruct advertisements and understand persuasive intent after the Media Detective intervention. While further research is needed to verify the effectiveness of Media Detective, it is rated as a promising program by the Office of Justice.

About the Author

Elise Freeman has been a writer and researcher for eight years. Freeman's research in psychology has been publicized on the Huffington Post, "USA Today," NPR, and "The Washington Post." She has also worked with The New York Times Bestsellers and some of the leading researchers in the nation. Freeman's specialties include science, education, travel and more.

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