Office of National Drug Control Policy: Preventing Drug Use in Our Communities

Apr 16, 2012, 3:15 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

Jack Stein Jack Stein, Office of National Drug Control Policy

A NewPublicHealth Q&A with Jack B. Stein

The National Prevention and Health Promotion Strategy is about to celebrate its first anniversary. The Strategy offers a comprehensive plan aimed at increasing the number of Americans who are healthy at every stage of life. A cornerstone of the National Prevention Strategy is that it recognizes that good health comes not just from receiving quality medical care, but also from the conditions we face where we live, learn work and play such as clean water and air, safe worksites and healthy foods. The strategy was developed by the National Prevention Council, which is composed of 17 federal agencies including the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Education, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and others.

The Strategy outlines four strategic directions that, together, are fundamental to improving the nation’s health:

  • Building Healthy and Safe Community Environments
  • Expanding Quality Preventive Services in Both Clinical and Community Settings
  • Empowering People to Make Healthy Choices
  • Eliminating Health Disparities

As the Strategy is rolled out, NewPublicHealth will be speaking with Cabinet Secretaries, Agency directors and their designees to the Prevention Council about the initiatives being introduced to work with all Americans toward the goal of long and healthy lives.

This week, NewPublicHealth spoke with Jack B. Stein, PhD, Chief of the Prevention Branch in the Office of National Drug Control Policy's Office of Demand Reduction.

NewPublicHealth: What is the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s (ONDCP) role in implementing the National Prevention Strategy?

Jack Stein: Our agency is one of the 17 principal agencies on the National Prevention Council, and so we’ve had the opportunity to help shape the development of the National Prevention Strategy and participate in its implementation. We were particularly excited that there is a specific priority area in the strategy that focuses on substance abuse prevention and that the recommendations parallel those contained in the President’s National Drug Control Strategy. In fact, we highlighted prevention in the 2011 update of our Strategy. I think this was a great way to shine a spotlight on the important role prevention plays in creating safer and healthier communities.

NPH: What specific initiatives does ONDCP support in the National Prevention Strategy?

Jack Stein: First, it is important to note that ONDCP is responsible for coordinating drug control efforts across the Federal government. As a coordinating agency, we are able to promote the National Prevention Strategy’s goals and recommendations to the many agencies with whom we interact. For example, the National Prevention Strategy’s emphasis on screening and early identification of preventable health problems is nicely reflected in the priority we place on incorporating screening and brief intervention for substance abuse in a variety of settings, such as community health clinics and schools.

In addition, we operate two major programs that fully support the National Prevention Strategy. One is the Drug Free Communities (DFC) Support Program, a grant program to support community-based drug prevention coalitions. The other is “Above the Influence,” the brand for the National Anti-Drug Youth Media Campaign.

NPH: What successes are you seeing so far from these programs?

Jack Stein: Above the Influence has become one of the most widely recognized youth brands in the country with 80 percent of teens being aware of it. In addition to national-level prevention messaging, the campaign encourages local youth through the help of on-the-ground partner organizations, such as Boys & Girls Clubs and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD). Evidence for the effectiveness of Above the Influence Campaign has been reported in several independent studies published by peer-reviewed journals. One such study showed that those youth exposure to the Campaign were less likely to begin use of marijuana compared to those not exposed to the Campaign.

Our DFC Program undergoes a national cross-site evaluation each year. These data indicate that since January 2002, past 30-day use of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana declined significantly in both middle school and high school-aged youth in areas served by these coalitions. Moreover, prevalence of 30-day use across all substances was lower for DFC high school students than among a nationally representative sample of high school students.

NPH: What other facets, such as housing and crime, are associated with drug abuse, and how can collaborative efforts among agencies help address those issues?

Jack Stein: Drugs and crime are intimately linked. Our strategy is unique because it takes advantage of what we now know about how to more effectively prevent drug use, provide addiction treatment and enforce the law against illegal drugs. It’s a balanced approach of evidence-based prevention, treatment and enforcement. In addition, we fully recognize the important role basic needs like housing and employment play in helping someone maintain their recovery. As a coordinating agency, we are able to work across the government to ensure these needs are addressed and barriers to doing so are broken down.

NPH: How is the ONDCP working with community partners in the effort to prevent people from abusing drugs?

Jack Stein: As mentioned earlier, our Above the Influence Campaign not only works on a national level but a local one as well relying on partnerships with local organizations such as Boys and Girls Clubs. Our DFC consists of over 700 local coalitions nationwide, each working to improve the community environment to promote healthy alternatives to drug use. In addition, we have developed strong relationships with numerous national organizations that, in turn, help promote drug prevention messages through their constituents. One interesting example is our growing relationship with 4-H, a program supported by the Department of Agriculture. We recently hosted a meeting with youth leaders from 4-H who did a magnificent job describing for us how they contribute to drug prevention efforts within their own schools and communities, specifically related to prescription drug abuse and drugged driving.

NPH: What are the most critical issues with respect to preventing illegal drug use?

Jack Stein: Drug and alcohol use affects health outcomes, job opportunities, family life and academic outcomes. Findings from several national surveys show that teen marijuana use may be increasing and that the perceived risk of marijuana use is decreasing. Historically, research demonstrates that drug use among youth increases when the perceived danger of using drugs decreases. Of great concern of recent past has been the rise in prescription drug abuse as well as the appearance of synthetic drugs including “Spice,” “K-2” and “bath salts.” Therefore, now more than ever, it is critical to focus resources and efforts on preventing use before it ever starts. This makes not only common sense, but is cost-effective in terms of saved health care and related costs to society. And in so many respects, that’s the theme of the National Prevention Strategy—staving off problems before they can start and ensuring the health of our communities.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.