I came across an article discussing information I have seen before (and I think did a post about) that the use of illicit drugs looks to be declining among teens and young adults, but illicit use of licit drugs (e.g. Vicodin at parties) appears to be increasing. However, the part of the article that most caught my attention was the statement that “we” will need to be “finessing a message that these legal drugs are safe when used properly, but can be life threatening when abused.” That “traditional prevention messages” won’t work because these drugs are legal and are useful when used appropriately.
This seems to say that teens and young adults aren’t quite bright enough to differentiate the 2 uses (or use and misuse). That the only way to stop them from misuse and abuse of these substances is to paint them broadly as “bad”/”evil”. I think we sell people and their mentalities short with this thinking and I think that sort of thinking is why so many “drug prevention” programs fail. That is the foundation thinking behind “reefer madness”-type programs and scare tactic prevention programs. Those programs fail because all you have to know is 1 person using the drug at issue without the “madness’ or while still functioning in society and the entire reason not to use goes out the window.
Drug use prevention programs, whether pertaining to illicit or licit drugs, must be fact based and reasoned if you want people (including teens and young adults) to not misuse the drug. The same holds for alcohol, when used appropriately and responsibly it is a good thing, but misused it can and does kill. The messages must be clear, consistent and repeated over time to have an impact, but they can be nuanced in the sense that people are capable of discerning misuse from use. The message should not be “finessed”, but must be clear and factual. We can tell folks that this stuff kills if misused (if it does) and yet can save if used properly. Do not demonize, but rationalize (as in make a rational argument) against harmful use. Let them know the whys and wherefores and you will still see the results you want.