New program aims to prevent prescription drug use among high school students

George Mason University Professor Dr. Kenneth W. Griffin, received $156,581 from National Health Promotion Associates for a project aimed at preventing prescription drug use among high school students.

Griffin is a professor of global and community health in Mason's College of Health and Human Services. His research focuses primarily on the etiology and prevention of substance abuse, violence, and related risk behaviors among adolescents and young adults.

We know that nearly 10% of high school seniors have reported misusing prescription drugs. We must provide our youth with prevention programming that helps them avoid substance abuse, including prescription drug abuse, and that gives them the resiliency skills they need to deal with the challenges of being a teenager. With the COVID-19 pandemic upon us, it is increasingly clear that we need flexible implementation options for prevention programming and we also need programs that are broad-based with the potential to prevent multiple problem behaviors that may share common addressable causes."

Dr. Kenneth W. Griffin, Professor, George Mason University

The program goes beyond the traditional information that is offered in substance abuse prevention programs such as scare tactics, which are often ineffective. Instead, the program is designed to provide students with valuable life skills to help them succeed in developmental tasks, and reduce their vulnerability to negative peer, media, and other influences that promote prescription drug abuse and other risk behaviors.

This subaward to George Mason University is a continuation of Griffin's work and part of a larger $1.7 million National Institutes of Health National Institute on Drug Abuse multi-year grant. Griffin and colleagues will develop, field, and evaluate a prescription drug abuse prevention program with a randomized control trial in up to 40 high schools across the United States.

The program will use a hybrid format that includes both online e-learning modules and interactive sessions that were adapted from a classroom-based program. The prevention program promotes pro-health attitudes, norms, and behaviors, and enhances protective factors by building social, self-regulation, and relationship skills through interactive learning and behavioral rehearsal scenarios, with the goal of reducing prescription drug abuse and concurrent alcohol/drug abuse. The researchers will also provide training for teachers who will be delivering the prevention program.

Following the program, researchers will follow up with students for two years to assess their knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors related to prescription drug misuse and other forms of substance abuse.

While a portion of the program is fully online, students can have valuable opportunities to practice what they learn with follow-up classroom sessions. Due to Covid-19, additional flexibility for either in person or synchronous classroom sessions may be even more important.

"Unlike many programs, our approach does not focus primarily on the dangers of substance abuse, but attempts to address a common set of risk and protective factors through skills training in social and self-management capacities, like assertiveness, communication, and relaxation techniques" explains Griffin. "This could help students resist prescription drug abuse while also building resiliency skills that can have positive impacts throughout many facets of their lives."

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