“Just Say No” Doesn’t Work. Here’s Why and What to Do Instead.
There are a lot of people battling drug addictions in Arizona, and so many of them could have been avoided. But do addiction prevention programs like, “Just Say No” really work? It does not appear so.
The “Just Say No” campaign took off in the 1980s, popularized by the Reagan administration’s war on drugs. It’s been a prevailing voice in drug prevention ever since, especially when drug programs are aimed at children and teenagers. However, our growing opioid crisis makes it quite clear that this mode of thinking about addiction and drug use simply does not work.
On the surface, the premise of “Just Say No” and other similar campaigns seems both straightforward and appealing. It is, after all, a simple answer to the problem of drugs addiction: Don’t start doing them in the first place and you won’t have an issue. Unfortunately for the millions of people struggling with opioid addiction across the country, the solution is not that simple.
Youth Addiction Statistics in Arizona
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services reports that in 2017:
- 18% of high school students in grades 9-12 have consumed alcohol before the age of 13.
- That number is 2% higher than the national rate.
- That breaks down to 21% of males and 15% of females.
- 33% of young people stated that they had consumed at least one drink during the last 30 days.
- Most of these individuals are females.
- 18% of high school students stated that they have participated in binge drinking at some point within the last month.
- Again, most of them are females.
- 39% of Arizona youth report that the alcohol they consumed was given to them by someone else.
- 6% of high school students have driven a car or another vehicle after having consumed alcohol within the last 30 days.
- 19% of teenagers have ridden in a car with someone who has been drinking within the last month.
- 6% of high school students have used cocaine at least once during their lifetimes.
- 4% of young people have abused prescription pain relievers in some way within the last year.
- 2% of high school students have needed professional alcohol addiction treatment within the last year, but did not get help.
- 5% of them have been in need of drug treatment within the last year but did not get help.
How Drug Prevention Programs Fail Youth
The best-known and most popular addiction prevention program in the country is D.A.R.E., or Drug Abuse Resistance Education. These programs, generally provided by police offers who visit schools on a regular basis to provide education about the risks and effects of various drugs. The program has been implemented in as much as 75 percent of the nation’s school districts, and it’s still largely synonymous with drug education in America even though a bulk of evidence suggests that the program simply does not work.
Part of the problem with D.A.R.E. and related programs is it can make it seem like everyone in a person’s peer group is doing drugs. By making drug use seem more common than it generally is among young people, the take-away message for many teens is that drug abstinence would make them social pariahs.
Another problem is that many people do not enter the path to addiction in the way the drug prevention programs may have led them to believe would happen. For many Americans with substance abuse problems, their first introduction to drugs was in a doctor’s office, not a party. Prescription drug addiction frequently begins with legal, valid prescriptions. When drugs are prescribed in larger quantities than are necessary or for conditions that do not require that strength of drug, substance abuse can start. Other factors, such as an individual’s emotional and socioeconomic circumstances, can lead this recreational painkiller usage toward the path of addiction.
Finally, drug prevention problems cannot help with the millions of people already suffering from addiction. For people already caught in the grip of substance dependency, the advice to “Just Say No” comes insultingly late. The solution to the nation’s opioid crisis is a combination of compassionate addiction treatment and prevention methods that have been proven to be more effective.
What Actually Helps People Avoid Drug Dependency?
Researchers have found that the most effective drug prevention programs for young people are those that focus on building social skills for handling peer pressure, providing plenty of one-on-one interaction with fellow students and the instructor. They also emphasize that drug usage, while serious, is not especially common, alleviating the unspoken social pressures of D.A.R.E.-like programs.
For the upcoming generation of young people who have not yet developed drug problems, these programs are a step in the right direction. The solution to our current opioid crisis, however, is multi-faceted and will require many steps beyond prevention.
Establishing addiction treatment programs that recognize the individualized needs of addicts is the first step. A compassionate and understanding approach to addiction, recognizing that people who struggle with substance abuse frequently have additional problems in their lives that must be overcome before addiction can be treated, is essential. Approaching the prescription drug problem from a systemic perspective, looking at ways the pharmaceutical industry itself may be contributing to the problem, is also a crucial step.
Not everyone who uses drugs becomes an addict; by identifying the factors that lead casual drug users down the path of addiction, important work can be done in preventing drug dependency. By taking this multi-faceted approach to drug abuse prevention and treatment, progress may at last be made on the nation’s drug epidemic.
Arizona’s Substance Abuse Prevention Programs
Preventing addiction is important, and Arizona has created some programs that could be effective going forward. The Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family’s website states:
“The Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family (GOYFF) is committed to supporting our communities in their efforts to combat substance misuse and abuse. Through our numerous grant funding opportunities, along with outreach and prevention efforts by our councils and commissions, we are working to curb substance use disorders throughout the state of Arizona. GOYFF aims to strengthen the health and safety of Arizonans through various marketing campaigns and initiatives, linking resources, collaboration and capacity building with community, faith, private, public, & tribal partners across the state.”
Let’s take a look at the programs they have put into place.
Arizona Parents Commission on Drug Education and Prevention
This program was started through a voter initiative in 1996, so it has been around for quite some time. The Commission receives funding from the Drug Treatment and Education Fund, which was started as a way to fund programs that accomplish a few specific goals.
First, the goal is to increase and enhance parental involvement in kids’ lives. It is also important to increase education about the risks of using drugs and alcohol as well as the public health problems that can result from that.
Arizona Substance Abuse Partnership
The Arizona Substance Abuse Partnership (ASAP) is a statewide council on substance abuse treatment, prevention and recovery. It is made up of members from community organizations, and the state and federal government.
The Partnership creates workgroups to facilitate what is outlined in the group’s Executive Order. Members are made up of experts and community stakeholders. Their focus is on five strategies, which are:
- To reduce the illegal acquisition and diversion of Rx drugs.
- To promote responsible prescribing and dispensing of medications.
- To enhance prescription drug practices and policies in law enforcement.
- To increase the public’s awareness of prescription drug misuse and abuse.
- To enhance assessments and referrals for substance abuse treatment.
How to Find a Quality Drug Rehab Program in Arizona
The SAMHSA treatment locator tool indicates that there are more than 400 options available in Arizona for drug rehab. That number alone is overwhelming, and it is easy to see how a person may have a difficult time choosing. With so many programs, how does one tell which are good and which are not?
There are a few characteristics that may indicate whether a program will work well. For example, prior to making a commitment to go to rehab, people should be careful to always:
- Make sure that the rehab center they chose is accredited through the Joint Commission. This ensures that they are getting excellent treatment at the facility.
- Actually speak with someone who works at the facility. Many websites are only advertisements for low-quality drug and alcohol rehabs. Legitimate Arizona treatment centers will have staff working there and they will have physical addresses.
- Make sure that they participate with their health insurance plan. It is important to have insurance benefits verified so that all of the costs are made as clear as possible.
- Learn more about the type of care they will be receiving. Not all rehab programs are the same, and people need to know what they are investing in. Staff should have no problem answering any questions they might have.
- Make sure that there are medical staff present at the facility. This is important in the event of a medical emergency, which can happen at some stages of recovery.
Addiction Prevention and Recovery in Arizona are Both Within Reach
Parents often worry that their children will succumb to the temptation to use drugs and alcohol, and that once they are addicted, they will not be able to stop. Those concerns are valid, but at SpringBoard Recovery, we want people to know that help is available.
We are all about preventing the use of substances; especially among youth. But we know that peer pressure can sometimes become too much. We are here for individuals and families who need help. Please contact us.
- Office of Population Affairs: https://opa.hhs.gov/adolescent-health?facts-and-stats/national-and-state-data-sheets/adolescents-and-substance-abuse/arizona/index.html
- Scientific American: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-just-say-no-doesnt-work/
- Think Progress: https://thinkprogress.org/the-disastrous-legacy-of-nancy-reagans-just-say-no-campaign-fd24570bf109/
- Arizona Governor: https://goyff.az.gov/content/substance-abuse-prevention-initiatives
- Arizona Governor: https://goyff.az.gov/content/arizona-substance-abuse-prevention-resource
- Arizona Governor: https://goyff.az.gov/councils-commissions/arizona-parents-commission-drug-education-prevention
- Arizona Governor: https://goyff.az.gov/councils-commissions/arizona-substance-abuse-partnership
- Arizona Governor: https://goyff.az.gov/content/arizona-rx-drug-toolkit
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/locator
- The Joint Commission: https://www.jointcommission.org/en/