Preventing Other Drug Use on Campus

Campus prevention professionals have made significant strides in recent years by adopting environmental approaches to alcohol prevention. While alcohol is the drug of choice on most campuses, the use of other drugs by students continues to be a cause of concern among campus officials and requires a tailored, evidence-based prevention approach.

As with the problem of alcohol misuse, campus administrators can effectively address students' other drug use by adopting an approach based upon the Environmental Management model. This model helps prevent substance abuse by changing factors in the college environment that support it. These factors in large measure apply to both alcohol and other drug abuse. However, it is important to adopt environmental approaches that take into consideration the specific characteristics of other drug use and behavior.

Environmental Management for Other Drug Problems

Environmental management promotes the use of five strategies to address different aspects of the campus environment that give rise to student substance abuse. For each strategy, administrators may consider an array of program and policy options. (An array of options for other drug abuse prevention is more fully articulated in the Center's Catalyst, Winter 2006, Vol, 7, No. 2.) Bearing in mind the important differences of each campus setting, officials should identify the primary factors leading to other drug use at their specific institution and focus on those areas of strategic intervention.

The environmental management model promotes the following five areas of focus:

  1. Offer and promote social, recreational, extracurricular, and public service options that do not include alcohol and other drugs.
  2. Create a social, academic, and residential environment that supports healthy norms.
  3. Restrict marketing and promotion of clubs, raves and other venues and events that promote other drug use.
  4. Limit the availability of drugs both on and off campus.
  5. Develop and enforce campus policies and enforce local, state, and federal laws relating to other drug use.

Lessons from the NIAAA Report

When the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) released the 2002 Task Force report to address college student alcohol use, many of the recommendations were in close concert with the environmental management model. By the same token, many of these strategies can be borrowed to address student use of other drugs. Campus administrators might consider the following strategies that are supported by the NIAAA's Task Force report in their efforts to address other drug use on campus:

  • Cognitive behavioral skills training
  • Motivational interviewing, challenging expectancies
  • Increased and consistent enforcement of campus policies and disciplinary actions
  • Increased publicity of new and existing policies and sanctions
  • Informing new students and parents about campus policies and penalties
  • Reinstating Friday and Saturday classes and exams; taking attendance
  • Employing older, salaried RAs or hiring adults
  • Marketing campaigns to correct student misperceptions of other drug use

An important 'take-home' message from the Task Force report that can also be applied to addressing students' other drug use is that educational and informational approaches are not effective on their own.

Other Important Considerations

While bearing in mind the important aspects of the campus environment that may precipitate students' other drug use, prevention professionals should also consider the important differences in the use of one drug over another'the manner in which the drugs are accessed, the risks they bear, the 'culture' of their use, and the characteristics of the students who use them.

For instance, students using prescription medications like Ritalin, Adderall, or Concerta to stay awake and study may be quite different from those using OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, or other narcotics for recreational use. Similarly, a student who uses 'club drugs' such as ecstasy, Ketamine, or GHB when he or she parties will likely be different from a student using steroids to boost his or her athletic performance. Clearly, important differences in the target audience and intentions for drug use will bring about divergent approaches in a well-tailored drug prevention campaign to address such behaviors.

In addition to applying approaches that are considered 'best practice,' campus prevention officials are obligated by The Education Department General Administrative Regulations [EDGAR] Part 86 to provide 'a description of the health risks associated with the use of illicit drugs.' EDGAR also requires that institutions provide a 'description of any counseling, treatment, or rehabilitation or re-entry programs that are available to employees or students.' Campuses may consider going beyond these regulations to make efforts to provide referrals for students in need of drug treatment and recovery.

Beyond employing environmental, evidence-based approaches to prevent other drug use, administrators in search of prevention models and programs can look to key components of effective prevention'regardless of the targeted problem or behavior'and apply them to other drug use on campus. Prevention efforts are most effective when they are comprehensive, or multi-pronged, so the problem or behavior is targeted in a variety of ways and on multiple levels, addressing individual, institutional, community, and public policy factors. Prevention policies and programming should be based upon a strategic plan grounded in an assessment of local needs and should be evaluated to determine their effectiveness.

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