Prevention is supporting the healthy and safe development of children

The primary objective of drug prevention is to help people, particularly but not exclusively young people, to avoid or delay initiation into the use of drugs, or, if they have started already, to avoid developing disorders (e.g. dependence). The general aim of drug prevention, however, is much broader than this: it is the healthy and safe development of children and youth to realize their talents and potential and become contributing members of their community and society. Effective drug prevention contributes significantly to the positive engagement of children, young people and adults with their families, schools, workplace and community.

Among the most powerful factors putting some individuals at a greater risk towards substance use are: biological processes, personality traits, mental health disorders, family neglect and abuse, poor attachment to school and the community, favourable social norms and conducive environments, and, growing up in marginalized and deprived communities. CCSA publication on Childhood and Adolescent Pathways to Substance Use Disorders is one document offering further background on these developmental influences.

These risk factors are largely out of the control of the individual and are linked to many risky behaviours and related health disorders, such as dropping out of school, aggressiveness, delinquency, violence, risky sexual behaviour, depression and suicide. It should not, therefore, come as a surprise that prevention science demonstrates that many drug prevention interventions and policies also prevent other risky behaviours.

In order for drug prevention to address these complex factors underlying substance use, and to be effective and safe, it needs to be based on scientific evidence. A vast evidence base exists guiding us on what is effective for preventing drug use, and also on what types of activities have been found not to be effective. It is thus paramount to follow this evidence for making the best decisions, and investing the resources and efforts in a safe, ethical and effective manner. The UNODC International Standards summarize the currently available scientific evidence, describing interventions and policies that have been found to result in positive prevention outcomes and their characteristics, and together with the CCSA Standards, the EMCDDA Quality Standards and other similar tools they provide a solid foundation for effective prevention, that will form an integral part of a larger effort to ensure children and young people are less vulnerable and more resilient.