Programs that aim to curb teen prescription drug abuse have vastly differing effectiveness, ranging from big drops in drug abuse to no measurable effect, according to a new study of 11,000 teenagers by researchers at Duke and Pennsylvania State universities.
The best results came from pairing a school-based program with a home-based intervention, resulting in a 10 percent decrease in abuse rates. By contrast, most school-based programs were ineffective when used by themselves, with just one exception.
The six-year study is among the first to measure the success and cost-effectiveness of prescription drug abuse prevention efforts.
Abuse of prescription opioids, a form of painkiller, is the fastest-growing form of illicit drug use in the country, affecting more than 12 million Americans and killing more people annually than heroin and cocaine combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a result, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recommended restricting access to painkillers such as Percocet, Oxycontin and Vicodin.
"These drugs are very available, and highly addictive," said Max Crowley, an NIH Research Fellow at Duke's Center for Child and Family Policy. "There's a growing national debate about whether we should restrict access to these drugs, but at the same time, the drugs are hugely important for pain management. What's being left out of the debate is the role of prevention."
Crowley and his co-authors found that only one school-based program was effective when used by itself. The Life Skills Training program resulted in 4 percent lower drug abuse rates, compared with a control group. The 18-session course teaches social skills that build competence and encourage assertiveness.
Life Skills Training was also among the most cost-effective programs studied, costing an average of $15 per child, Crowley said. By contrast, the study notes that prescription drug abusers cost society an average of $7,500 each for treatment and other expenses, by conservative estimates.