It's time to voice your support for prevention & early intervention services
The field of alcohol and drug prevention was born during the 1980’s in response to an increase in substance misuse among young people during the 1970’s. Initially, the focus was to frighten adolescents and young adults from substance use through the development of scare tactics and the introduction of harsher criminal penalties for substance use involvement and trafficking. These tactics, as predicted by professionals in the field, did little to confront the issues which made substance use more likely among this population.
In contrast, modern day prevention efforts aim to identify risk factors that make some individuals more susceptible for substance misuse while helping these young people to expand the protective factors which support healthy choices. An example of this would be to provide emotional support to individuals who have substance use disorders in their families (risk factor) and to help them develop healthy coping and refusal skills that will help keep them safe (protective factors). Prevention also assists the general population of young people at a school by challenging misconceptions they might hold around substance use. For example, most young people perceive that more adolescents use alcohol and other drugs than actually do. The prevention counselor’s job in this case is to provide young people with information that illustrates that far more young people actually abstain from regular alcohol and drug use.
Prevention services are typically provided in the middle and high school settings as students serve as a captured audience. Student Assistance Programs (SAP) provide both support and educational services to high risk students in the form of crisis consultations and groups and environmental initiatives for the schools general population through messaging and classroom-based curriculum. Many schools in New Hampshire now support SAPs and consider them a vital component in ensuring the success of their students. At Second Start in Concord, NH, we provide SAP services to five school districts in and around the Capital Region including Concord, Merrimack Valley, Pittsfield, Hopkinton, and Hillsboro-Deering. We have been involved in prevention efforts since 1986. Our services are supported through local school district budgets, the United Way, and grants through the NH Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services (BDAS). Since the BDAS monies are time limited, school districts are eventually responsible to finance prevention services on their own once the grants run out. Merrimack Valley and Pittsfield will be the first to exhaust their grant funds in June of 2018.
When asked whether these services make a difference in young people’s lives I answer in the affirmative. I have seen the power that ongoing support has had on our most at risk students who have elected to participate in intensive services. They have chosen to accept help in place of medicating their feelings with alcohol and other drugs. Making this choice has enabled many to go on to lead productive and meaningful lives. Instead of asking if these services are making a difference, I would encourage doubters to ask themselves that if prevention services ceased to exist in New Hampshire communities how much worse might our substance misuse epidemic be?
If you feel prevention services in schools are important to young people, I urge you to contact your local school board and voice your support.