Wolf Administration Discusses Importance of Substance Use Prevention in Local Communities and Schools

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HARRISBURG, PA — The Pennsylvania departments of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) and Education (PDE) and Montgomery County Officials earlier this week highlighted the importance of utilizing effective, evidence-based prevention efforts for reducing substance use disorder among youth across the commonwealth.

“Prevention is our first line of defense in assuring our children grow up to live healthy, productive lives,” said DDAP Secretary Jen Smith. “With increases in substance use, trauma, adverse childhood experiences, and other risk factors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, intensifying our prevention efforts to address these risk factors is absolutely critical.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, the majority of adults who meet the criteria for having a substance use disorder started using substances during their teen and young adult years. Youth with substance use disorders also experience higher rates of physical and mental illnesses, diminished overall health and well-being, and potential progression to addiction.

“Schools are in an ideal position to provide the relationships and services that promote equitable, trauma-informed practices that support prevention programming and universal supports to address risk factors in youth,” said PDE Mental Health/Alcohol and Other Drug Specialist Dr. Dana Milakovic. “By focusing on prevention programming and positive learning environments, we can support youth’s mental wellness and the development of resiliency to enhance youth’s development into career-ready adults with positive coping skills and a reduction in risk-taking behaviors and substance use disorders.”

The Wolf Administration oversees the county implementation of various evidence-based prevention models. Schools are strongly encouraged to reach out to their local Single County Authority for guidance or assistance with identifying prevention programs to implement. Examples of prevention programs are outlined below.

PA Youth Survey

It is important that prevention efforts within schools and communities are guided by data. The Wolf Administration’s PA Youth Survey (PAYS) is a survey of youth in 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th grades that helps assess students’ perspective of their school environment, their mental health, as well as their behaviors and attitudes related to alcohol/tobacco/other drugs, violence, and other problem behaviors. PAYS also includes questions to help understand the underlying reasons why youth do or do not engage in problem behaviors. The PA Youth Survey will be administered in schools who sign up to participate in fall 2021.

Student Assistance Program

The Pennsylvania Student Assistance Program (SAP) trains school staff to identify alcohol, tobacco, other drugs, and mental health issues that act as barriers to a student’s success. Students can then be connected with resources. Services may include consultation, referrals to school SAP teams and SAP liaisons, risk assessments, in-school prevention and intervention support for students, and referrals for additional supports in communities.

Prescription Drug Take-Back Program

The majority of misused prescription drugs, including opioids, are obtained from family and friends, often from a home medicine cabinet. Pennsylvania’s Prescription Drug Take-Back Program helps keep families and communities safe by allowing a safe way to dispose of old or unwanted medication. There are currently 889 Prescription Drug Take-Back locations across the commonwealth and last year, almost 181,000 pounds of prescription drugs were collected and destroyed.

Opioid Prevention in Higher Education Grants

Last year, DDAP awarded nearly $1 million for Opioid Prevention in Higher Education grants to 13 higher education institutions to prevent and reduce the use of opioids by college students and to create naloxone training opportunities. This grant funding was made possible from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) target college-aged Pennsylvanians, age 18-30, one of the demographics impacted most by the opioid epidemic.

PDE engages in prevention work through supports of development of social-emotional skills, provision of mental health, and development of positive learning environments. PDE emphasizes the importance of students feeling safe in their school environments so they are less likely to engage in substance and alcohol usage. There are many tools available through the Office for Safe Schools including information on Alcohol and Other DrugsMental Health/SEL Best PracticesEquitable Practices Hub, support through the Student Assistance Program, and PA Career Ready Skills.

This week, SAMHSA’s National Prevention Week (NPW) is celebrated as an annual health observance dedicated to increasing public awareness and action around substance use prevention and the promotion of positive mental health.

In 2019, DDAP released the 2019-2022 State Plan highlighting strategic goals for the coming years. One of the four strategic goals is centered around intensifying primary prevention. To do this, DDAP has laid out three objectives; expand evidence-based curricula and resources to school-aged children, encourage availability and awareness of education and support groups for members of our communities, and strengthen family-based prevention and intervention services.

For prevention resources for schools, families, and communities visit ddap.pa.gov.

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