More must be done to identify and understand the best approaches to substance abuse prevention, a briefing paper by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) has recommended.
The paper, produced by the ACMD’s Recovery Committee, found knowledge of which programmes have been most effective in the UK remains limited.
Some approaches - such as drug education in schools and mass-media publicity campaigns - were, however, found to have little impact on preventing substance abuse when used in isolation from other initiatives to promote healthy lifestyles.
The briefing paper, ‘Prevention of Drug and Alcohol Dependence’, represents the ACMD’s first assessment of the prevention field since 2010.
It summarises recent research with a view to supporting government policy development, future ACMD recommendations and UK prevention programme providers.
The briefing paper makes a number of recommendations, including:
Those involved in commissioning prevention work should be mindful that standalone projects will have little impact on substance abuse unless they are considered as part of wider strategies promoting healthy living.
National policy, and the work of prominent groups such as the ACMD, should be guided by an evidence-based assessment of prevention work. This should consider the long-term effects of programmes which may otherwise be hindered by short-term political, financial and public-opinion pressures.
Research funders and charities should support high-quality evaluation research in the field, including economic effectiveness. There is currently a poor level of information available.
Policy-makers should recognise the health and social impacts of drug abuse can be reduced without users abstaining entirely.
Those working in the field should agree common terminology which will be helpful when considering a complex array of prevention initiatives.
Professor Les Iversen, chair of the ACMD, said:
This research demonstrates that there is more to be done in order to understand the complex network of substance abuse prevention programmes operating in the United Kingdom.
Better analysis of the merits of these programmes will help policy-makers and commissioners to make best use of limited financial resources, with the ultimate beneficiaries being the service users themselves.