Prevention: The Holy Grail in Keeping Drugs Out of Our Homes

Family at home.

Our country is clearly struggling with a harsh drug addiction epidemic. From President Trump’s official declaration of a National Public Health Emergency in October 2017 to the constant CDC reports of highest-ever overdose death rates each year, we can be certain that the drug problem is growing. And as the problem continues to grow, our nation becomes all the more desperate in its efforts to curb it.

One strategy for addressing the drug problem that we don’t work on nearly enough is the strategy of prevention. Our country gets so swept up in trying to help drug addicts (or incarcerate them, as is often the case), that we forget about prevention. We get so wrapped up in drug trafficking issues, drug crime, gang violence, international policy, and other problems that we forget to look to the future, to think with prevention. This is a big mistake.

What is Drug Addiction Prevention?

First off, let’s define the concept of drug prevention. Drug prevention is all about stopping the use of drugs before it begins. Prevention is all about “future-thinking.” It’s about not focusing on the immediate drug condition in any given area, but rather on what drug use will be like in that area several weeks, months, or years from now, and what we can do to prevent that.

Prevent, from the dictionary, simply means to inhibit the occurrence of something, to act as a stopping power or contesting force, considerable enough to quite literally stop something from occurring. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines “preventing something” as “To stop something from happening or someone from doing something.”

The idea behind prevention is that some degree of action or strategy is taken in the here-and-now to stop something else from occurring later. In the case of drug abuse prevention or drug addiction prevention, this would mean utilizing any types of actions, sequences, strategies, or policies that would contribute to a reduction or a full stop in drug use later on down the road.

Why is Prevention Often Forgotten?

The unfortunate truth is that prevention as a legitimate strategy for reducing the drug problem is often neglected. Bear in mind of course that this is not done with malice aforethought. Not by any means.

But here’s the problem.

As a nation, we do become alarmed by the current and immediate threat of drugs in our society. So what do we do? We take action to tackle the drug problem right here, right now. We are motivated by the stimulus that is the immediate drug problem, the one we hear about on the news, the one we see on the streets, the one we hear about from our neighbors and our family members. And so we take action in an effort to address that.

But the problem is, it takes so much time to martial our efforts and our strategies in an effort to address drug problem “x” that by the time we are ready to implement our strategies and plans, drug problem “x” has grown into drug problem “x, y, and z”. We are never able to take enough action and to take it quickly enough to make any real change in the condition of drug addiction in America.

The solution is not that we should turn a blind eye to what is happening right now on the drug scene. However, we are making an error by only trying to address the drug problem as it currently appears, because the drug problem is constantly changing and evolving. Rather, we need to start focusing more attention on preventing the drug problem from growing. The aim is to take considerable and decisive action towards creating a drug-free society that future generations can enjoy.

Prevention is often ignored because there is no immediate return on investment. Efforts of prevention take a while to manifest in the form of results, and that makes this approach a difficult one to sell to the American people. When we see drug abuse and addiction, crime, and overdose deaths occurring in our town, we want immediate action now.

And we often get it, too. But even if that immediate action is successful in reducing the drug problem in that area, there is no guarantee that the drug problem won’t just come back. But on the other hand, utilizing a prevention strategy will ensure that drug problems will not come back.

Key Strategies for Addiction Prevention

Community meeting about drug addiction.

The Surgeon General published a very helpful article on the subject of drug abuse prevention. In the article, the Surgeon General talks about what states can do to stop drug problems from forming. The article also covered the actions which can be taken by local communities, businesses, schools, non-profit groups, health care institutions, and even individual families. Some of the keynote prevention techniques that the article discussed are as follows:

Implement prescription drug monitoring programs in all doctors’ offices and medical clinics, nationwide. Prescription drug monitoring programs prevent people from obtaining too-large quantities of prescriptions of potentially addictive pharmaceuticals. Such programs also serve to alert medical practitioners to “doctor shoppers,” i.e. patients who are looking to get hold of pharmaceuticals for recreational or self-medication purposes.

Utilize prescription drug drop-off sites, so that people can dispose of unwanted or unused pharmaceuticals. One of the primary methods that drug users use to get hold of pills is they simply get them from a friend, a family member, or a medicine cabinet. Disposing of pills greatly reduces that risk.

Businesses can implement training and education for managers, owners, and staff that create knowledge and awareness of the risks of drugs and alcohol and of the dangers of substance abuse within the workforce.

Health care systems can create “Evidence-based guidelines for prescribing opioids in emergency departments, including restrictions on the use of long-acting or extended-release opioids for acute pain.” Such policies have been very lacking in the past, and sometimes completely nonexistent.

Community organizations can implement educational courses and group sessions into their existing programs. These would be courses or sessions geared towards educating young people in particular about the risks attendant with drug use or alcohol misuse.

Individual families can take similar levels of action within their own households. Parents can work to educate their kids about the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol, what is really at stake with drug use, how to avoid peer pressure, how to spot drug use, etc.

These are just a handful of prevention techniques. And while they might be very different, one to the next, the overall idea is the same. The goal is to take action in the immediate present that will prevent the growth of the drug problem in the future. Then (as we continue to work on treating those who are currently addicted) we can create a future that has less drug use and alcohol misuse in it. And that is absolutely a future that we should want to shoot for.


Reviewed and edited by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.