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Some Anti-Drug Campaigns Ineffective

Study finds community programs may do more harm than good

MONDAY, Oct. 21, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Some community anti-drug campaigns may do more harm than good, a new study says.

In the 1990s, after the U.S. government allocated half a billion dollars to local anti-drug coalitions, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation began a nationwide program aimed at reducing alcohol and drug abuse.

The project, named Fighting Back, encouraged 14 communities across the United States to design their own local anti-drug campaign while coordinating on issues such as public awareness, prevention, early identification and treatment across the entire community.

However, new research on the efficacy of the initiative suggests the program has had a dubious impact on the rates of abuse.

The study, funded by the foundation and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, appears in the current issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. It evaluated the approaches and achievements of 12 of the 14 Fighting Back communities.

The researchers reviewed the intervention strategies employed in each community and also conducted more than 12,000 telephone surveys to gauge drug and alcohol abuse in the treatment communities compared with 29 control communities.

They found that, regardless of the strategy used, the prevalence of abuse showed little if any decline. In fact, among the adults in the Fighting Back communities, the rates actually increased.

"Coalitions that were more comprehensive in their strategies did not show any superior benefit; when coalitions focused high doses of funding and staff time on specific strategies, this produced an inverse relationship with desired outcomes," the researchers write.

The investigators outlined several possible reasons for the coalitions' ineffectiveness:

  • The goals were too broad and this resulted in competing priorities.
  • Broad-based coalitions are expensive to maintain, and members'needs and demands swallow up resources.
  • Although significant sums of money were directed towards public awareness strategies, the evidence reveals this approach made little difference to either beliefs or behaviors in the communities.
  • Because members were given a free hand to experiment with any and all new ideas, few of them applied tested models of intervention.
  • The methods used may have been poorly executed or carried out in such a way that was unacceptable to the individuals or institutions they were supposed to change.

Despite the bleak findings, the researchers believe the program can learn from its mistakes. One suggestion is that goals be more clearly defined. Another is that community strategies would have a greater effect if they were implemented in conjunction with environmental strategies, such as stricter sanctions for alcohol and tobacco sales to youth.

More information

Read more about substance abuse at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Substance Abuse Resource Center.

SOURCES: Center for the Advancement of Health, news release, Oct. 21, 2002
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