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The Strategic Prevention Framework: A Valuable Tool in Developing Prescription Drug Misuse Prevention Strategies on College Campuses


Written by: Cindy Clouner, LSW, OCPS I, Prevention Specialist for the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Drug Misuse Prevention and Recovery and the Program Manager for the Ohio College Initiative to Enhance Student Wellness


It isn’t a surprise to many to hear that prescription drug misuse happens on our college and university campuses. Data from the College Prescription Drug Study (listen to Dr. Anne McDaniel’s podcast detailing the study!), which surveyed students from 8 campuses nationwide, showed that 11% of college students have misused prescription stimulants, and 5% have misused prescription pain killers and/or prescription sedatives in the past year.  Because the problems related to taking medications without a prescription may not as visible as the problems related to alcohol misuse, it can be harder for campuses to recognize the scope of the issue.

It also can be challenging to figure out a prevention strategy that is effective in regards to prescription drug misuse, because there is very little research to guide the selection and implementation of interventions at institutions of higher education. However, the lack of research around nonmedical prescription drug use prevention techniques targeting college students does not mean that we should do nothing to address this issue on our campuses. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Strategic Prevention Framework can serve as a guide to assist campuses in planning, implementing, and evaluating prevention strategies.


The Strategic Prevention Framework is made up of five steps: assessing the needs and risk and protective factors of the target population; building capacity through the expansion of resources and establishing or strengthening the relationship of collaborative partners; thoughtful planning of prevention strategies; implementation of selected prevention strategies; and evaluation of both the prevention strategy and the planning process. All five steps are completed while being mindful of sustainability needs and cultural competence. This process supports making decisions regarding prevention strategies based on data, better ensuring the appropriate use of resources, and increasing the likelihood of population-level change.

Increasing capacity is an important part of the Strategic Prevention Framework and is necessary for a successful comprehensive prevention approach. Since prescription drug misuse is an issue that impacts student success, looking beyond the offices of student wellness, student health services, counseling services and campus safety is crucial. The academic success center, disability services, residence life, athletics, Greek life, veteran’s services, and health focused academic departments can all support your prevention efforts and increase your access among students.

SAMHSA’s Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies also suggests that a combination of individual-level and environmental strategies are necessary for prevention efforts to have the most impact. Limiting access and availability, developing or strengthening policy, and increasing enforcement are all examples of environmental strategies that have been shown to be effective when addressing substance misuse.   Pairing these efforts with individual strategies such as education and opportunities to screen for prescription drug misuse and provide brief motivational interventions for those who identify as misusing can help to create a more holistic prevention approach.

All campuses want their students to be successful. By utilizing the Strategic Prevention Framework, campuses can identify the needs of their students to better address prescription drug misuse and create change that supports that success.

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