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D.A.R.E. Officer Rick Crossen in Athens, Ohio.

New data from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health show a rare bright spot amid the opioid crisis. Fewer high schoolers in the region appear to be using opioids.

School officials in the Ohio Valley want to continue that trend with more school-based programs designed to help prevent substance use disorders. But these are not the same drug prevention programs many people remember from their school days.

These new prevention efforts use a different approach as officials learn from past mistakes. Drawing on evidence from prevention science, these programs emphasize the behavioral health issues tied closely to addiction, rather than focusing on the drugs themselves.

A Different D.A.R.E.

The Drug Abuse Resistance Education program started in the Reagan era “War on Drugs,” with police officers and a school curriculum that gave kids warnings about the dangers of drugs.

It was one of the first school-based drug prevention programs and Rick Crossen has been working with it for a quarter of a century in Athens, Ohio.

“I take pride in the fact of being a D.A.R.E. officer,” he said. “I think you do have an impact in the children’s lives.”

Officer Rick, as he’s known to school children in Athens, came to love the position so much that he chose to keep doing it after retiring from full-time police work in 2015.

But researchers did not love D.A.R.E.

Their studies showed the program had little effect on decreasing drug use. One study in the 1990s even found misuse actually increased for some students who participated in D.A.R.E.

So officials brought in prevention scientists to overhaul the program.

“It wasn’t that what was being taught back then was incorrect,” Crossen said. “They learnt new ways to approach [drug prevention].”

The organization worked to implement evidence-based strategies to develop the current “keepin’ it REAL” D.A.R.E. curriculum.

“Now D.A.R.E. focuses so much more on making decisions,” Crossen said. “We really don’t spend a whole lot of time specifically on drugs. It’s not about me standing in front of the class and lecturing much anymore. It’s about getting kids involved.”

Decision Points

The Preventure program is a targeted prevention program that Athens City Schools officials plan to adopt alongside D.A.R.E.

It begins by evaluating middle school students based on a short, easy questionnaire about how they make decisions.

The students at highest risk of future substance use disorders are divided into groups based on four personality traits: Those with anxiety sensitivity, those who express hopelessness, those who are impulsive, and those who seek sensation.

These students are then are paired up with teachers who go through the Preventure training program and are taught about the students’ personality traits.

Hanie Edalati, a research fellow with Venture Labs in Montreal, recently visited Athens to explain the program to the community. She said that children who know themselves better are less likely to develop risky behaviors.

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