Online Drug Education Attracts Young Teens

Article excerpt

In 2006, more than 2.1 million youths ages 12 to 17 reported abuse of prescription drugs, Predominantly opioids, according to results from that year's National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Did these young people know that a single use of prescription drugs with other drugs or alcohol can be lethal, or that repeated use can change how one responds to stressful events? It is unlikely that early teens are attending to such facts about the consequences of alcohol and drug use. Therefore, it is necessary to think creatively about how to communiate this important information to them in an engaging manner.

Interactive technology provides the opportunity to offer a private, personalized, immediate, and engaging experience available to anyone with access to an Internet connection. In this digital age, early teens are actively using the Internet for educational and recreational purposes. This has led to great interest in translating the theory and research that inform school-based prevention programs (e.g., social influence, competence enhancement) into online prevention programs.

Drugs4Real (www.drugs4real.com), created with support from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and with a portion developed with support from King Pharmaceuticals, Inc., is a Web-based alcohol and drug prevention program designed for students of an age at which they are particularly vulnerable to initiating alcohol and other drug use (11 to 14). This program was developed by Inflexxion, Inc., of Newton, Massachusetts. To develop this program, 11-to-14 year olds, parents of adolescents, professional school staff (teachers, counselors), and experts in adolescent substance use and prevention participated in focus groups and interviews. Their input was used to design a "blueprint" of content and design features from which Drugs4Real was created.

Multimedia approach

To benefit different learning styles and to create a rich educational experience, Drugs4Real teaches adolescents about the influence of alcohol and other drugs through engaging graphics, animation, sound, and video. Multimedia presentation of information can be especially helpful to students who might have reading, learning, or attention difficulties, who are at significant risk for initiating alcohol and other drug use.

Four main substance use areas are covered in Drugs4Real: Drug Basics, Tobacco, Alcohol, and Marijuana. Each area is introduced by a teen video host and includes facts about the specific topic as well as interactive games, animation, and video-based skill-building activities. All features are self-directed and tailored: Users can choose content based on their experiences with personal, friend, or family substance use. Teens learn different types of coping strategies and are encouraged to reflect upon which might work best for them.

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The objectives of additional Drugs4Real features are as follows: 1) "Media Watch" describes how advertisers influence attitudes and perceptions about alcohol and tobacco; 2) "Rate Myself" self-assessments offer teens brief, motivational feedback on personal risk factors related to substance abuse; 3) "Did-You-Know" factoids counter misconceptions that many teens have about substance use; and 4) "Make-a-Page" allows teens to earn the opportunity to customize a personal page with images and music as a reward for using other parts of the program. …