Talking to Loved Ones About Drugs Saves Lives
Though it receives little recognition or public attention, drug abuse prevention efforts should be focused on and expanded, as such programs halt drug addiction before it even occurs. Further, it is far more cost-effective to prevent people from ever becoming drug addicts than it is to treat them once they’re addicted.
However, stigmas and stereotypes still prevent many Americans from openly discussing drugs, and prevention only has broad workability when everyone participates in it. With that in mind, prevention cannot just be a public health policy initiative. It has to be an American initiative.
Why Prevention Works
Particularly for adolescents and young adults, peer pressure is still widely believed to be one of the main reasons why people start using drugs. The Mayo Clinic cited peer pressure and family beliefs about drugs as the leading environmental stimuli incentivizing young people to experiment with mind-altering substances.
Peer pressure is a complicated social phenomenon, but it can be summarized as individuals (usually young people) being convinced to do something they know is not within their self-interest. Ultimately, the inner voice telling them to say no loses out.
But why does peer pressure win out over that inner voice? When a young person does not have concrete data and an informed opinion about drugs to back up their inner voice, peer pressure becomes stronger than the inner voice.
This is where prevention can make all the difference. A large body of scholarly work shows that young people who are informed of the truth about drugs, the effects of drugs, the short and long-term harm, the legal implications, the physical ramifications, and the addiction risk; such individuals are statically far less likely to succumb to peer pressure and use drugs.
The goal of prevention is to sufficiently educate people about drugs, to essentially empower that inner voice with factual data and information about drugs. When people understand the very real risks attendant with drug use, they’re far less likely to experiment with such substances. For example, surveys of young people who receive information about the harmful effects of drugs show that about half of participants say the information makes them want to “completely” avoid drugs. About one-third say the information “somewhat” makes them want to avoid drugs.
Focusing on Prevention Is a Worthwhile Financial Investment
Prevention does not just make sense from a health-of-the-society perspective. Prevention is also a wise financial investment. Every dollar invested in prevention saves several dollars later on down the line that otherwise would have been spent on the fallout from drug abuse, i.e., medical costs, criminal justice expenses, treatment costs, collateral damage, legal fees, etc.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has extensively researched the efficacy of education-based prevention programs, particularly those implemented in schools. One of their research papers states, “If effective prevention programs were implemented nationwide, substance abuse initiation would decline for 1.5 million youth and be delayed for 2 years on average. It has been well established that a delay in onset reduces subsequent problems later in life.”
“The average effective school-based program in 2002 costs $220 per pupil including materials and teacher training, and these programs could save an estimated $18 per $1 invested if implemented nationwide.”
Programs which are effective in reducing youth substance abuse are worthwhile. Further, SAMHSA researchers also showed that universally implemented school-based drug prevention/education programs would save taxpayers money by preventing the costs attendant with widespread youth drug abuse. Again quoting the research, “The average effective school-based program in 2002 costs $220 per pupil including materials and teacher training, and these programs could save an estimated $18 per $1 invested if implemented nationwide.”
Another body of research, compiled by the Community Prevention Initiative, found that 16% of federal government healthcare-related expenditures go to addressing the “…burden of substance abuse and addiction.” Further, for every dollar spent on managing the consequences of addiction, only 1.9 cents are spent on preventing and treating drug abuse. Alarmingly, of that 1.9 cents, less than half of one cent is spent on prevention efforts.
In short, government spending (at least on the federal level) overwhelmingly goes to damage control. That includes addressing the fallout and harm from millions of Americans addicted to drugs (emergency room visits, long-term healthcare costs, missed work, collateral damage from accidents, law enforcement costs, etc.).
Meanwhile, that same body of research indicated that every dollar spent on prevention efforts results in an average of $10 in long-term savings. When the American taxpayer invests in making sure people know why they shouldn’t use drugs, the long-term savings of people who are then not using drugs is 10x the initial investment.
Experimenting with Drugs Is Extremely Dangerous.
Prevention makes sense in that it informs and educates Americans, providing them with the information they need to understand why they should avoid using drugs and alcohol. Further, prevention is a low-cost approach and an investment all in one, as broad, nationwide prevention efforts create a population that does not incur drug-related healthcare and criminal justice costs later on.
In a letter encouraging support for drug prevention and education, Dr. Nora Volkow summarized prevention with these words, “Communities, schools, and healthcare systems already have scientifically well-supported tools at their disposal to help prevent substance use and other related mental illnesses and risk behaviors in adolescence, but sadly they are seldom implemented. Even if an intervention can be shown in a trial to produce benefits, it cannot be expected to make a positive impact if it is not easily scaled up in a variety of real-world settings adaptable to the needs of different communities.…. [However] when policymakers and community leaders can translate the human benefits of effective treatment and prevention measures into some quantifiable return on that investment, it can be a lever to shift public health policies.” Those words provide an excellent summary of the importance of prevention.
The goal must be to create nationwide prevention programs to help educate the American public on the risk of drugs because prevention programs only achieve maximum efficacy when implemented on a broad scale. That’s why every American has to confront the sometimes difficult-to-talk-about subject of drugs, and have real conversations with their loved ones about drugs. Our quality of life, our lifespan, and the very future of our society depend on our ability to empower our younger population with the tools to say no to drugs and the knowledge to understand why they would want to say no.
- MayoClinic. “Drug addiction (substance use disorder).” Mayo Clinic, 2022. mayoclinic.org
- NIDA. “Preventing Drug Misuse and Addiction: The Best Strategy.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020. nida.nih.gov
- SAMHSA. “Substance Abuse Prevention Dollars and Cents: A Cost-Benefit Analysis.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2008. samhsa.gov
- CPI. “The Power of Substance Abuse Prevention: Why Invest in Prevention.” Community Prevention Initiative, 2011. ca-cpi.org
- NIDA. “Investing in Prevention Makes Good Financial Sense.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2022. nida.nih.gov