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What Works: Effective Public Health Responses to Drug Use

NCJ Number
Date Published
March 2008
25 pages
This booklet highlights several cost-effective, research-tested demand reduction initiatives that have proven successful in the United States and have the potential to be helpful to other countries in addressing their own drug abuse challenges.
An overview of six effective public health responses to drug use are presented for the international community as a guide to the demand reduction efforts that have produced successful results in the United States. First, media campaigns have been found to work. In the United States, the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign has sought to turn youth attitudes against drug use and encourage increased parental engagement through national paid advertising and public communication outreach. Second, the formation of the Drug Free Communities (DFC) coalitions has proven to be an effective catalyst for reduced drug use among youth and increased citizen participation. DFC coalitions promote creative local solutions. Third, Random Student Drug Testing Programs are legal and effective. The power of random student drug testing as a prevention tool can not be understated. In schools, random testing satisfies two important public health goals: the prevention and treatment of substance abuse. In the workplace, workplace safety is the reason most commonly cited by employees for implementing drug testing programs. Fourth, using an evidence-based questionnaire and depending on the answers, health care providers or physicians can intervene with a brief, nonjudgmental motivational conversation on the dangers of substance abuse and ways to overcome it, and if the patient’s screening falls into the range of addiction, the patient can be referred to specialty treatment. This response is known as screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment. Fifth, the Access to Recovery (ATR) initiative expands substance abuse treatment capacity by expanding the number of providers of treatment and recovery support services. Lastly, drug courts, founded in 1989, have proven to be one of the most successful demand reduction initiatives in the United States, handling cases involving drug addicted offenders through an extensive supervision and treatment program.