The Nebraska "Network of Drug-Free Youth" Program

Article excerpt

Adolescent alcohol and other drug use continues to be a primary concern for schools and communities across the nation. The most recent national "Monitoring the Future" survey indicates high school seniors show a continuing high use of tobacco; that eighth grade students reported increased use of several illegal drugs; and that binge drinking ("five or more drinks in a row in the last two weeks"), while continuing a slow downward trend, remains at an unacceptably high level.[1] Rural areas of the country are not exempt from adolescent alcohol and other drag use problems. Results from a 1993 survey of high school students in Nebraska[2] indicated higher alcohol and tobacco use rates among these youth than among their national peers.

This paper describes Nebraska's experience in implementing a program to organize and support local drug-free youth groups across the state. The "Network of Drug-Free Youth" program, developed by staff at a statewide prevention agency, supports the health education and policy efforts of local schools, and provides a link between the school and the community.

PROGRAM OVERVIEW

Program Goals

Outcome goals for the "Network of Drug-Free Youth" are 1) to delay onset of use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs among adolescents who have not yet begun to use, and 2) to reduce or eliminate the amount of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs among adolescents who already use these substances. Process goals of the Network program from 1987-1993 were 1) to organize alcohol and drug-free youth groups for at least 1,200 students in grades 7-12 through training retreats, and 2) to provide local, regional, and statewide support services to help groups maintain and at least double in membership from the original number of youth trained through retreats.

While many states hold prevention retreats for youth, this program differed in several ways: 1) teams of youth, rather than individuals, are recruited for the initial training retreat; 2) these youth groups, trained at the retreat, are expected to continue to function in their community after the retreat, and to grow in membership; 3) adult sponsors are involved with the youth groups from the beginning, ensuring adult support and advocacy for ongoing group activities; 4) staff at the statewide prevention agency and at the seven regional prevention centers throughout the state provide follow-up technical assistance to the established youth groups; and 5) program planning, implementation, and evaluation are carefully documented.

The groups formed in this program are prevention-oriented peer groups intended to support youth who choose an alcohol and drug-free lifestyle. Local youth group activities included drug-free recreational activities for group members and other students, community service projects, cross-age educational programs for younger students, school and community awareness campaigns, and educational and support activities for group members.

Approximately 90% of the drug-free youth groups are school-based. Many are official school-recognized clubs or organizations. Groups usually meet at the school and hold many of their activities there. In many cases, a teacher or counselor acts as the main adult sponsor for the group, assisted by another adult from the community. Most groups reach out to the community, involving businesses or other organizations as financial supporters for activities, working with other groups on community service activities, or providing public awareness messages.

Support from Research

The program's goals are consistent with "Healthy Youth 2000" National Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Objectives for Adolescents,[3] and supported by research that indicates the longer initial use of alcohol or other drugs is delayed, the less likely the user is to experience a problem with those substances.[4] The Network program also is based on evidence that peer influence can be a powerful predictor of alcohol, tobacco, and other drug (ATOD) use by young people,[5, 6] and that early onset of ATOD use increases the likelihood of multiple problems. …