When it comes to finding the best evidence-based practices for teen drug abuse prevention, nobody in the country compares to Frances Harding, the Director of the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Given the rise of substance abuse among youth nationwide, Director Harding believes that the keys for implementing effective teen drug abuse prevention programs are evidence-based practices.

Frances Harding and SAMHSA Evidence-Based Practices

After serving as Associate Commissioner of the Division of Prevention and Recovery at the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, Frances Harding became president of the National Prevention Network, an organization representing the alcohol and drug abuse prevention offices in all 50 states.

In 2004, she became the first non-researcher and non-scientist to receive the prestigious Science to Practice Award from the International Society for Prevention Research. In the teen drug abuse prevention field, she is the most respected advocate and long-term voice in the United States.

In a feature interview with The Fix, Frances Harding described her work as the Director of the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention at SAMHSA. She explains, “I work on the development of policies, programs and services to prevent the onset of illegal drug use, prescription drug misuse and abuse, alcohol misuse and abuse, and underage alcohol and tobacco use. I promote sustainable substance abuse practices to help enable states, communities and other organizations to spread and apply evidence-based prevention programming.”

The SAMHSA prevention strategy is to use community coalitions to fight the national drug epidemic by investing in front line support of local communities.

Teen Drug Abuse Prevention and Evidence-Based Practices

Frances Harding has been a trailblazer on a state and federal level in proposing new strategies promoting teenage drug abuse prevention and has championed SAMHSA evidence-based practices to promote teen substance abuse prevention practices. On their website, SAMHSA highlight the intricate connection between substance abuse among youth and mental health disorders.

Frances Harding believes that best practices in teen drug abuse prevention must take into account this connection. As clearly expressed on the SAMHSA evidence-based practices section of the site:

“Addressing the impact of substance use alone is estimated to cost Americans more than $600 billion each year. Preventing mental and/or substance use disorders and related problems in children, adolescents, and young adults is critical to Americans’ behavioral and physical health. Behaviors and symptoms that signal the development of a behavioral disorder often manifest two to four years before a disorder is present. In addition, people with a mental health issue are more likely to use alcohol or drugs than those not affected by a mental illness.”

The Definition of Teen Substance Abuse Prevention

Given the challenges, Frances Harding points out that teen substance abuse prevention needs to be based on science and not on speculation. Strategies need to be based on the Mental Health Intervention Spectrum, first introduced in a 1994 Institute of Medicine report, but not incorporated into public policy until recently.

In the 1994 Institute of Medicine Report, prevention is defined as service offerings and implementable strategies that are, “Delivered prior to the onset of a disorder, these interventions are intended to prevent or reduce the risk of developing a behavioral health problem, such as underage alcohol use, prescription drug misuse and abuse, and illicit drug use.”

According to Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, which was fully supported by Frances Harding and the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention at SAMHSA, prevention is a breaking down of risk and security into two known factors. To protect teens, you need to understand the difference between risk factors and protective factors.

Prevention Risk Factors Vs. Prevention Protective Factors

Risk factors are the factors in a teen’s life that increase the likelihood of substance abuse being initiated, they also highlight other behavioral health problems that result from drug abuse. By looking at a specific community and factoring in their inherent diversity, the risk factors can be delineated.

In contrast to risk factors, protective factors are the elements in a teen’s life that directly decrease the likelihood of substance use and behavioral health problems. The goal of protective factors is to reduce the impact of risk factors on a teen. Indeed, as pointed out in the Surgeon General’s cutting edge report, “Risk and protective factors become influential at different times during development, and they often relate to physiological changes that occur over the course of development or to factors in a person’s environment—for example, biological transitions such as puberty or social transitions such as attending a new school, parental divorce or military deployment, or graduation. These factors can be influenced by programs and policies at multiple levels, including the federal, state, community, family, school, and individual levels.”

Frances Harding

Director of the Center for Substance
Abuse Prevention at SAMHSA

“Parents are the key to most of our problems with youth. I don’t mean that they help cause the problems, but they are the key to solve the problems.”

The SAMHSA Drug-Free Communities Support Program

The ONDCP and the SAMHSA Center for Substance Abuse Prevention came together to support and promote Drug-Free Communities (DFC) Support Program grants. Although the grants were created by the Drug-Free Communities Act of 1997 (Public Law 105-20), they were not fully implemented on a national level until the 21st century. The strategy is to take advantage of community coalitions to fight the national drug epidemic by investing in front line support of local communities.

Indeed, the Drug-Free Communities Support Program focuses on two main goals. Outlined in the Community Coalitions Section of the SAMHSA Prevention website, the two main goals are as follows:

  • Establish and strengthen collaboration among communities, public and private non-profit agencies, as well as federal, state, local, and tribal governments to support the efforts of community coalitions working to prevent and reduce substance use among youth
  • Reduce substance use among youth and, over time, reduce substance abuse among adults by addressing the factors in a community that increase the risk of substance abuse and promoting the factors that minimize the risk of substance abuse

When these goals are implemented, the results have been impressive. The challenge is to find the funds to implement these SAMHSA evidence-based practices on a national scale.

Parents Equal The Key To Teen Drug Abuse Prevention

At the end of her interview with The Fix, Frances Harding points out that community coalitions start in the home. After all, the pillars of a community are the parents, and parents are the key to making prevention work. As she explains regarding the future success of SAMHSA evidence-based practices:

“A problem with prevention always has been the gulf between not showing change as people want to see it as opposed to showing change the way that we want to see it with these evidence-based, long-term programs. We are working in a subject matter that most people don’t want to talk about. They don’t want to have responsibility. But I really, really do believe that parents are the key to most of our problems with youth. I don’t mean that they help cause the problems, but they are the key to help solve the problems.”

Indeed, when parents are willing to be the key to helping to solve substance abuse among youth, prevention becomes a reality not only in the community at large but in the home.