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When many people hear the word “prevention” in the context of substance abuse, they may recall the prevention methods of yesteryear: emotionally charged school assemblies, disturbing photos of gruesome side effects or a health teacher that tried to “scare them straight.” These sorts of techniques have been proven to be largely ineffective, and they have little place in modern conversations about prevention.

The field of addiction prevention is often misunderstood, as evidenced by the prevalence of “scare tactics” and other negative messaging that attempts to change behaviors based upon fear alone. Compass Mark, however, is striving to change the way our community sees and applies prevention tactics.

In addition to offering critical prevention programs and services, Compass Mark seeks to continually evaluate the content, tone and messaging around substance use.  Using the building blocks of science and public health, Compass Mark staff uniquely tailors programs to the needs of individual persons and their environment.  When done correctly, prevention is a cost-effective, long-term investment that transforms lives and strengthens the fabric of the community. As Eric Kennel, executive director of Compass Mark, notes, “Every $1 spent on prevention saves $15–$20 in long-term costs to society.”

Compass Mark encourages a public health approach to prevention. Much as healthcare workers recommend exercise and a healthy diet to prevent heart disease and diabetes, Compass Mark promotes healthy lifestyles and strong communities as a means of preventing substance abuse. Addiction is a chronic, yet preventable, disease. Addiction prevention specialists teach children and adults how to be resilient and to cope with life’s stresses without turning to alcohol, tobacco, other drugs and gambling; individuals who know how to deal with stress and problems in a productive, healthy way are less likely to resort to risky behaviors for relief.

Speaking about prevention, Kennel notes, “Not just anything will work.  There is a science to prevention, and a comprehensive public health approach is necessary to success.  Compass Mark prioritizes evidence-based interventions that are grounded in research and best practice.”

Prevention specialists at Compass Mark focus on decreasing risk by developing strengths in individuals and communities. Strengths are things like having the ability to make friends easily, or feeling like you belong in your neighborhood.

Kennel provides an example, “Simply telling a child that drugs are bad or scaring them about the consequences is unlikely to be effective… the focus should be on teaching specific refusal skills, encouraging involvement in healthy activities, effective communication and decision-making strategies.”

This is not a one step process; it can be better understood as a lifelong journey towards positive lifestyle choice and strong, healthy communities.  As Kennel says, “Prevention gives people the resources they need to thrive.”

For more on prevention strategies that work, visit Compass Mark’s website.

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