PROSPER Program Improves Substance Abuse Rates Among Children

One age group that seems particularly susceptible to drug use are middle school children. This is often the time when curiosity and experimentation take place, and a key point of early intervention if drug use is to be avoided. In an effort to make a large impact on this at-risk population, experts in the field came together to develop a program called, PROSPER. PROSPER (PROmoting School-community-university Partnerships to Enhance Resilience). And a recent study shows that this type of programming is proving successful in deterring children from using harmful substances that could lead to addiction later on in life.

“Prevention programs like PROSPER can help delay the experimentation with substances at an early age. And, now, with this latest research, we see more positive outcomes for these kids as they enter adulthood, which hopefully will carry over into more positive long-term outcomes in terms of parenting and career success,” said Janet Welsh, coordinator for the Pennsylvania PROSPER team. The idea behind PROSPER is that community and family interventions among younger people can intercept a child before drugs really become a problem. This is often done by connecting schools and communities with trained PROSPER interventionist teams that can help mediate situations.

And, according to the study, this is working. Research shows that there has been a 41% decrease in lifetime use of methamphetamine among 19-year-olds, 30% reduction of marijuana and cocaine use, and a 20% decrease in prescription painkiller use.

Additionally, the researchers were able to see conclude that the earlier a child gets involved with PROSPER, the more likely they are to maintain a life free from illicit substances. This is also the case with drug use – the earlier a child uses drugs, the more likely they are to develop an addiction as they age. With the success of the this program, it is likely that communities all over the country will look to adopt this methodology, which focuses on communities coming together with families to protect youth against the dangers of drug addiction.

Extreme Side Effects of Synthetic Drugs Among Adolescents

One population that has been greatly affected by the rising popularity of synthetic drugs, specifically synthetic marijuana, is adolescents. This is likely due to the fact that young people can often obtain the substances without going to a drug dealer, they are (falsely) perceived as being safer than street drugs and there is very little education on the dangers of these types of compounds. In an effort to combat this trend, a group of researchers has published a study that examines and highlights the grave dangers of using such drugs, especially on the developing brain of an adolescent.

One of the important factors of this study was that it was a longitudinal study. This means that the 964 high school students that were interviewed about their drug use, anxiety symptoms, depressive symptoms and any other emotional or physical ailment was conducted again on the same students a year later. This type of study allowed the researchers to document the changes, if any, that were being reported.

They found that students who exhibited depressive symptoms appeared to be more likely to gravitate towards the use of synthetic marijuana. This was important information because educators, health care officials and parents can learn to spot indicators before a child resorts to synthetic marijuana use. Preventing experimentation and abuse of this drug is vital because the side effects of synthetic marijuana are extreme. Suicidal thoughts and ideations, seizures, strokes, paranoia, extreme anxiety and depression are all common among young people who use these drugs.

And while the outcome of the study was to highlight the dangers of synthetic marijuana use, the researchers did not set out to make this the focus of their work. “Substance use is one of the risk factors that we were particularly interested in studying, and of course, we think alcohol, drug use and other mental health outcomes are important to examine in their own right. Over time, we became aware of synthetic cannabinoid use in adolescents and decided that it was critical to add that variable to our research as well,” explained Gregory Stuart, co-author of the study and psychology professor at The University of Texas.

Memories May be Clue to Future Drug Abuse Tendencies

In order to determine some of the common factors in adolescent drug use and abuse, researchers gathered data from 387 young adults. The group was compiled eight years ago, and monitored through surveys, until they were 18-20 years-old. The researchers, working with the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, were able to track potential risk factors that make it more likely a teenager will use drugs more heavily than others.

Perhaps one of the most interesting findings of this long-term study was the influence of working memory on drug use potential among adolescents. Working memory is a term used to describe the ability to concentrate on a task without being easily distracted. The researchers in this study found that the participants who had poor working memories were much more likely to experiment with drugs in the future, and also more likely to develop drug addiction problems. They noted that the children with above average working memories were much less likely to develop drug abuse problems in the future. This information is new to the health community and raises a lot of questions regarding current drug education and treatment solutions.

“Unanswered in our earlier work was whether it was specific forms of early use that predict later substance abuse. People really hadn’t focused on the heterogeneity of drug-use patterns. Some youths can start early and experiment but not progress while others experiment and progress into heavier drug use,” explained Atika Khurana, assistant professor in the Department of Counseling Psychology and Human Services at the University of Oregon.

The researchers pointed out that current drug prevention strategies target all youths. It is common to communicate that any drug use will lead to a drug addiction, but researchers point out that this is not true, and a much more effective way of educating young people on the dangers of drugs is to tailor the material to specific needs. For instance, if a teacher has a classroom full of students with above average working memories then a drug prevention talk may be more focused on limiting experimentations and effective ways of staying safe. While a teacher with a classroom of students with poor working memories may be helped more by a talk with a stronger focus on the dangers of abuse.

The continued examination of drug use and abuse among youths is vital in developing effective prevention curriculum as well as effective treatment solutions.

Behavioral Issues Among Teenage Drug Users

Anyone who knows a teenager that abuses drugs and/or alcohol can probably attest to the fact that these children also have behavioral problems. While this may not come as a surprise to many people, researchers recently conducted a study that revealed exactly what types of bad behaviors are most commonly associated with teenage drug users. Understanding what behaviors are associated with drug use can give parents and medical professionals an early warning that drug use is present and help to guide in early intervention techniques.

Researchers found that teenagers who abuse drugs are more likely to display behavioral traits like engaging in unprotected sex, driving under the influence and are less likely to help others. And while these are behaviors that seem to go hand in hand with the teenage years, the researchers pointed out that family members are likely to witness these behaviors to an extreme level. For instance, not having a desire to help other people is something that parents often overlook as normal teenage behavior, however the research shows that not being aware of how one’s actions impact others is a common sign of abuse.

“Alcoholics have been described as a ‘tornado running through the lives of others’. Results from this study suggest that alcoholics lack awareness of others and ho their actions impact others, rather than being sociopaths or intending to harm others,” explained Dr. Maria Pagano, a professor of child psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University.

The study was conducted by gathering 585 high school students. Some of the students had received drug treatment in the past, some were currently receiving treatment, and others had not engaged in drugs at all. The researchers found that the teens who had abused drugs, or who were currently receiving treatment for drugs were more likely to engage in risky behaviors and have a more difficult time exhibiting compassion for others.

The results of the study, which appears in the Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse, are a strong indicator that behavior and drugs go hand in hand. Parents who are concerned that their child may be engaging in experimentation or abuse can look to their child’s most recent behavior as a sign if their fears are warranted. Drug treatment for teenagers may evolve to encompass sorting out these types of behavioral issues as well.

State Group Homes May Pose More Drug Risk to Children

Children born to mothers who are young, or single, or addicted to drugs, parents with mental and emotional problems or into families with money problems have a greater chance of ending up in the foster system. State officials often step in when they get reports that a child may not be receiving the proper care. If the reports are substantiated, officials sometimes have to take the child from the home and enroll them into foster care. The idea is to protect children from harm caused by neglect and shield them from making the same poor decisions that their parents are making. However, the foster system is not without its dangers. In fact, a recent investigation shows that children within the foster system in California are more likely to use drugs, engage in sex at an early age or fall victim some sort of violence or sexual abuse.

“When you look at the suicide rates, drug abuse rates, when you look at all the negative outcomes for the foster care population – the lack of the number of kids going into higher education, just the absolute lack of success – that’s the danger that the system puts these kids into,” explained California Assemblyman Mark Stone.

The investigation, conducted by a Bay area NBC branch, found that there was evidence of 815 incidents occurring in state homes that would pose immediate risk to the children in the last five years. Investigators revealed that employees have been caught doing drugs with group care children, administering drugs to misbehaving children and there was even one incident where an employee brought in a loaded gun.

The publication of the problems that are occurring in California group homes will likely spark the need for other states to delve inside their own foster care homes. Children who are taken out of their homes due to some sort of negligence should not be placed into another environment where they are being given drugs or in the presence of loaded weapons.

Currently, the state of California is looking to overhaul their group care system in an attempt to prevent more kids from falling into a life of drugs, crime and trauma as a result of their experiences in group homes. California certainly isn’t the only state with issues in the protection of children. All states should focus on providing the best care for children in need, not only to help prevent problems such as substance abuse, but also rehabilitation programs for those teens who become addicted.