Encouraging healthy behavior and decreasing substance abuse in our community.


Published on December 15th, 2017 | by Deb Wolf


Prevention 101 – Seven Strategies to Prevent Substance Abuse

Current prEvents     December 15, 2017     Times Argus

By Matt Whalen, the Substance Abuse Prevention Consultant with the Vermont Department of Health in the Barre District Office of Local Health

Most people think of health as a private matter, but it also has a public side.

Public health is “the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting human health through organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals,” according to Charles-E. A. Winslow.

This definition aligns with the Vermont Prevention Model, the touchstone for substance abuse prevention work happening across the state. The Vermont Prevention Model focuses on five nested levels of influence, including individuals, relationships, organizations, communities, and policies and systems. Simply put – in substance abuse prevention, professionals work with individuals to give them the knowledge and skills they need to make healthy choices, and they work to improve the worlds that people live in to make the healthy choices the easiest choices.

The entire nation, the State of Vermont, and Washington County are facing many challenges regarding alcohol, tobacco, opioids, marijuana, and other drugs. Many resources focus on drug treatment and recovery programs. To be truly effective, we need to start with preventing these health problems in the first place. To address substance use locally, at multiple levels of the Vermont Prevention Model, work is being done by prevention coalitions, school SAPs, health care providers, and community partners. These professionals implement the following strategies articulated by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America or “CADCA.”

  • Providing Information – This includes educational presentations, workshops, seminars, brochures, websites, and sharing data. Some local examples include: encouraging people to lock up their prescription medications to keep them from misuse, theft, and poisonings; promoting the “Vermont’s Most Dangerous Leftovers” campaign about safely disposing of unused meds; promoting naloxone or narcan to prevent opioid overdoses; the “Free my Ride” campaign to prevent smoking in cars with kids; sharing prevention education through social media and newspaper articles like “Current prEvents”; promoting DEA drug Takeback Days every spring and fall.
  • Enhancing Skills – This strategy includes workshops, seminars or other activities designed to increase the skills of program participants, community members and staff. Local examples of enhancing skills include the Guiding Good Choices parent education workshops; responsible beverage service trainings through the Vermont Department of Liquor Control (DLC); educating pharmacists and prescribers about safer practices; supporting the Vermont Prescription Monitoring System and new prescriber rules.
  • Providing Support – This creates opportunities to help people to participate in activities that reduce risks or enhance protections. Some local examples include the Our Voices Xposed high school groups (OVX), Vermont Kids Against Tobacco middle school groups (VKAT), gay straight alliances, supporting recovery centers, and supporting teen centers.
  • Enhancing Access/Reducing Barriers– This is achieved by improving systems, processes and services to make them more user friendly. Local examples of this include updating local resource lists; screening, brief intervention, referral and treatment services (SBIRT), providing education on reducing stigma of substance use disorder and medication assisted treatment.
  • Changing Consequences (Incentives/Disincentives) – Consequences reduce risky behavior and help promote healthy behavior. Local examples of changing consequences include the Montpelier Police Department’s “Project Safe Catch” providing more services versus incarceration; and recognizing retailers for passing DLC compliance checks and not selling alcohol and tobacco to minors.
  • Changing Physical Design – This addresses the structure of the environment to reduce risk or enhance protection. Some local examples include promoting alcohol-free parks and events; increasing prescription drug drop off locations like the boxes available in most police stations; and establishing smoke free spaces, housing, and downtowns.
  • Modifying/Changing Policies – Changes in written procedures, by-laws, rules or laws are helpful. Some local examples include the Vermont law of no smoking in cars with kids present; raising the purchase age of tobacco to 21 and keeping products behind the counter, and deciding whether to legalize marijuana.

To ensure that these strategies are implemented effectively, prevention professionals include cultural competence and sustainability. These qualities address the health disparities among vulnerable and targeted populations such as individuals of low socio-economic, LGBTQ individuals, and racial and ethnic minorities and ensure continuity and consistency.

And it’s working! Years of following the Prevention Model to implement programming that address the seven CADCA strategies have led to significant declines in the rates of tobacco, drug and alcohol use and abuse in Washington County and beyond. But this work is not finished. Substance abuse prevention professionals are working hard to ensure that the progress of the past 20 years continues.


Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA)

For help with drug dependence or addiction: http://www.healthvermont.gov/alcohol-drugs/help

Current PrEvents is produced by the Central Vermont New Directions Coalition in collaboration with the Washington County Youth Service Bureau, as part of the Regional Prevention Partnership grant from the Vermont Department of Health.

Send feedback to currentprevents@gmail.com or 223-4949

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