Public Release: 

Study: evidence-based programs likely to be more successful in preventing substance use by children

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

(Embargoed) CHAPEL HILL - Scientifically designed substance abuse prevention programs based on research showing what works and what doesn't are likely to be much more effective in keeping children off tobacco, alcohol and drugs than other programs not based on such evidence, a new study suggests.

In part, that's because teachers using such programs tend to have been recently trained in teaching them and work at schools where staffers have a positive attitude about making a difference, researchers say.

The national study, conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE), involved analyzing how teachers and schools discourage substance use among middle-school students.

Investigators developed research-based standards for both content and delivery practices because earlier studies showed both elements were central to the effectiveness of prevention programs, said Dr. Susan T. Ennett, associate professor of health behavior and health education at the UNC School of Public Health. They then sent detailed questionnaires to a random sample of 1,905 middle school teachers to find out which programs they used in the classroom and how they implemented them.

"We found that about a quarter of the teachers were employing evidence-based programs as opposed to off-the-shelf curricula that had not necessarily been evaluated or proven effective," Ennett said. "We also found that fewer than a third of the teachers met the standards we created. Although that percentage was low, it was two-thirds higher than for those teachers not using an evidence-based curriculum, and that's good news."

The UNC researchers were scheduled to present the findings in Seattle Saturday (June 1) at the annual meeting of the Society for Prevention Research. Principal investigator for the study was Dr. Christopher Ringwalt of PIRE in Chapel Hill.

"Both school and teacher characteristics were significantly associated with meeting our standards," Ennett said. "Most notably, providers who were recently trained, reported comfort in using interactive delivery methods and were in a school with a positive climate were more likely to implement curricula in accordance with these standards."

Her group's results suggest that teachers and schools need resources and support if evidence-based programs are to be adopted and used as intended to achieve maximum results, she said.

Examples of evidence-based curricula include Project ALERT and Life-Skills Training. An example of a well-known substance abuse prevention program not based on evidence is DARE, which recent studies have found to have little or no effect in safeguarding children.

Programs found to be effective in steering them away from unhealthy substances emphasized social influences knowledge and refusal skills and employed interactive teaching strategies such as role-playing. Such programs also taught them about social skills, including decision-making and assertiveness.


Others involved in the research were Dr. Judy Thorne of Westat in Rockville, Md., Dr. Luanne Rohrbach of the University of Southern California and Amy Vincus, Ashley Simons-Rudolph and Shelton Jones of RTI International.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse supported the new study, which will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Prevention Science.

UNC News Services

Note: Ennett can be reached at (919) 966-9207. During the meeting, she can be reached at the Renaissance Madison Hotel in Seattle, (206) 583-0330 or at For details about the Society for Prevention Research and the meeting, call Anthony Biglan at (541) 953-0002.

School of Public Health contact: Lisa Katz, (919) 966-7467

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